River News

Delta Coalition holds forum on “The Real Delta Story”

Community representatives and legislators unite against the Bay Delta Conservation Plan
at UOP in Stockton

November 6, 2013

Galen Kusic

Photos by Jarrod R. Kohls
Attorney and South Delta Water Agency Manager John Herrick speaks that a freshwater estuary cannot recover with less water flowing through it.

Those that live in the Delta know "the real Delta story."

They also know that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is a threat to the future history of the estuary if something isn’t done to stop the Governor’s plan that creates no new water for a thirsty state.

Monday's Delta Coalition forum at the University of Pacific in Stockton highlighted the flaws and unanswered questions raised by the BDCP. Expert’s opinions on the seven-year, $250 million-plus process stated several times that BDCP is in fact about to “implode.”

“It probably is imploding,” said State Senator Lois Wolk. “BDCP has a tendency to take the air out of the room. There is more to water policy than BDCP…let’s do the most cost effective items that will help us all.”

The Delta Coalition is a group of local communities and legislators united to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Together, this forum addressed why BDCP will not work for the area and what can be done as an alternative.

Members of the Coalition include numerous San Joaquin County cities and non-profit groups like Restore the Delta and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, including entities like the Port of Stockton, San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation, Business Council, Inc. and the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley.

“Remember, stick together and continue to tell the Delta story,” said San Joaquin County Supervisor and Delta Protection Commission Chair Larry Ruhstaller.

The consensus was clear: The coalition is strong, but it must continue to grow and reach out to other groups to educate those about how bad the tunnels will actually be for California’s economy. Dr. Jeffrey Michael, Economics Professor at the University of Pacific, explained that BDCP has not even done an independent cost-benefit analysis, and that through his own research – BDCP literally has no economic benefit.

Photos by Jarrod R. Kohls
San Joaquin Supervisor and Delta Protection Commission Chair Larry Ruhstaller and Assemblymember Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) both spoke out against BDCP Monday.

“There’s a reluctance to walk away when they’ve invested so much in it,” said Michael. “Even though it doesn’t make sense for the state of California and it doesn’t make sense for the ratepayers.”

As the BDCP's 20,000-plus page public EIR/EIS is set to be released for public review on Dec. 13, area legislators and groups like Restore the Delta are focused on enlightening the public about the problems with the plan and what residents can do to make an impact.

The Coalition cites major flaws of the BDCP to be that it will not add "one new drop of water" to an already over-allocated state water supply. The Coalition claims the plan will devastate Delta communities, agriculture, habitat and fisheries, while local government was excluded from the project for fair and effective participation in the development from jump.

Representatives continue to site that all reasonable alternatives to the project were not analyzed or evaluated. Yet, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) claims that all alternatives have been analyzed.

Since the BDCP was created in 2007, over $250 million was spent on studies, consultants and science to hopefully gain a permit from fish and wildlife agencies to construct two massive 40-foot, 30-mile long tunnels 150-feet below the surface from the north Delta to the current Tracy pumps.

An overview of the project itself was given by Restore the Delta Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, who explained the "severe and unavoidable impacts" should the plan ever be permitted. She noted the pile driving that would take place for years in the Delta, and how Greater Sandhill Crane habitat could be adversely affected - along with fish populations, especially Chinook salmon.

Most of all, she highlighted the Delta's $5.2 billion agriculture economy and how taking "prime" farmland out of production for habitat restoration would be detrimental to the economy in more ways than one.

"It's quite dire," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "If we pull out 140,000 acres for habitat and take out prime farmland for construction of the tunnels, we are going to be interrupting our tax base because there is no other backup economy to bring in those tax dollars...we start to lose a significant chunk of our farm economy, it's going to affect people who sell insurance, it's going to affect people who sell fuels, seed, the other things that are needed to run a farm.”

“It starts to have impacts on the economy, and I believe that is not a hit we can afford to take in this region. You think bankruptcy was hard - with a degraded environment and economy, I don't see how we'd recover."

John Herrick, attorney and general manager of the South Delta Water Agency displayed facts that make BDCP practically impossible to permit under current flow standards and water quality regulations. He states the Western Delta Agricultural Standard, South Delta Salinity Standard and cold water requirements on the Sacramento River are being violated consistently year after year because of the over-allocation of water – as much as 8 million acre feet during an extended drought.

He showed that over 3.5 million acre feet of water goes to central valley agricultural water users alone, and that much of this water exported currently was never supposed to be taken out of the Delta.

"The plan for BDCP is to move X2 (outflow) upstream, which means less outflow," said Herrick. "The salinity standard is virtually violated every year all summer. The response from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to that is, ‘well, we better relax the standards so we don’t violate it.’ They’re in the process of relaxing the standard.”

Herrick’s main question has remained since the beginning – can a freshwater estuary be improved by having less fresh water run through it?

The answer has always been no.

Photos by Jarrod R. Kohls
State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) speaks about her recently introduced water bond, SB42, and alternative ways to create a more stable water supply in California.

“There isn’t any other answer to that,” he said.

Herrick also explained that for the past several years DWR violated the Delta Agricultural Standard and sent a letter to the SWRCB to relieve them from their water quality obligations. In turn, the SWRCB stated it would not regulate the standard this year.

In comments made by the National Marine and Fisheries Service, BDCP does not follow any criteria to improve the population or well being of fish in the estuary.

“There is little to no evidence that more habitat means more fish,” he said.

When the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) commented on BDCP’s probability of an earthquake levee break, they used words like “invalid,” “questionable” and  “surely these numbers cannot be credible results.”

“Science done by BDCP shows that it won’t do what they want. It won’t do what they want. We’re not going to let it happen,” concluded Herrick.

San Joaquin County Supervisor and Delta Conservancy Director Ken Vogel spoke of the importance to upgrade the Delta’s levee system and that alternative methods to create new water are desperately needed for the state’s water supply - not two peripheral tunnels.

Upper Roberts Island resident and activist Rogene Reynolds explained BDCP’s objective to use her home island for upland habitat restoration. She discussed the wide diversity of crops that are grown on the island and how the Delta’s agricultural economy is responsible for over 12,000 jobs.

She talked about “willing sellers” and eminent domain, tactics the state are using to acquire private land for the project. Reynolds remembered asking California Natural Resources Agency Deputy Secretary Dr. Jerry Meral if there were two farmers that sold out and one in the middle that wouldn’t sell, what would happen. He said, “One man can’t stop a freeway.”

Reynolds spoke about the importance of creating “fat levees” and introducing habitat restoration on these areas.

“Why can’t we beef up our levees in the Delta?” asked Reynolds. “The estimate has been about $4 billion to make the levees strong and plant their habitat on it. Why do you have take land out of production?”

Legislators then gave their opinions on BDCP, including Senator Wolk, State Senator Cathleen Galgiani and Assemblymembers Susan Eggman and Jim Frazier.

Wolk emphasized the importance of educating others about this issue, creating coalitions and continuing to push against the BDCP to create better water policy statewide. She discussed her water bond proposal, SB42, and that there are other better, less harmful and more effective alternatives to improving the state’s water supply.

“The things we want to do, and other communities want to do is form coalitions with them to help restore, maintain and preserve the Delta,” she said. “Things like regional water supply. Let’s assist other regions statewide to get off the Delta and diversify their water supply.”

Wolk states that it is extremely important who controls the money set aside in the bond strictly for the Delta. She believes that the Delta Conservancy must control the money to reinvest in the estuary.

Galgiani discussed the importance of creating more water storage statewide, cleaning up groundwater and getting DWR to create a database for regional water storage projects throughout the state.

“They know they need the Delta for any kind of bond to pass,” said Eggman of the need for the five Delta counties to be in support of a bond. “This is where God put the water, and this is where they want us to farm.”

Ruhstaller was the last to speak, as he questioned whether the state has kept their promises not to take too much water from the Delta.

“How do we tell the real Delta story? Water defies gravity – it flows uphill towards money and votes,” he said.

He emphasized that understanding what residents of the South Bay, the San Joaquin Valley and southern California want and need is important. The key to Improving California’s economy can only be achieved by enhancing the ecosystem, fisheries and wildlife within the Delta.

The soil in the Delta is 50 percent more productive than the state average, and 75 percent of the primary zone is agricultural land. Ruhstaller is against taking any prime farmland out of production.

“I don’t see how you do this by taking more water out of the estuary,” he said. “Flow is paramount. Timing, temperature, quality – those are all questions that need to be answered before you decide to build tunnels.”

Finally, questions were taken from the audience – one being who will benefit most from BDCP. The responses ranged from Kern County Water Agency, Westlands Water District to Stuart Resnick and Paramount Farms, but Dr. Michael explained that those profiting the most will be construction firms and consultants that work on the project over time.

“It’s not clear whether the ratepayers in the state are beneficiaries. In fact, they probably are not,” he said.

Wolk finished by noting that water districts are realizing that the cost for BDCP is getting way out of hand, and that the project itself has been a diversion to creating sound water policy.

“The fact is we have a Gov. and an entire water establishment that supports this and wants it to happen,” said Wolk. “That means we have to engage and we have to push for the long-term.”

In the Coalition’s packet, it states, “BDCP can’t manage flows to benefit the ecosystem if, regardless of whether the year is wet or dry, the purpose of the project is to ensure reliable flows for export. They just can’t have it both ways.”

To learn more about the Delta Coalition, visit www.deltacoalition.org.


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