The water plan you haven’t heard of
Water politics in California often appears to follow the weather. When it rains a lot, people quickly forget we live in a semi-arid state with more than 37-million people and almost 7 million cattle and cows.
When it’s dry, everyone starts to worry.
The last rainy season was unusually wet, with a record snowpack in some parts of the Sierra. Preliminary long-range projections for the coming rainy season predict normal rainfall, whatever that has come to mean.
But the real story of California water flows, so to speak, largely outside public view, perhaps because, unless there’s a flood or a drought, the media doesn’t pay much attention.
Much of the public can therefore be excused for knowing little, if anything, about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), an attempt to solve the decades-old dilemma of sharing Northern California’s liquid bounty with water-starved Southern California, while portioning out sufficient supplies to preserve fish and wildlife and restore the flow of rivers and streams we have already pumped dry.
The BDCP is a noble attempt to craft an equation that many people would argue is mathematically impossible without sacrificing endangered salmon and other fish species that are now balanced on the thin edge of extinction. And now we learn that the Obama administration, through Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, is pushing to fast track a decision on revival of the dreaded nemesis of Delta preservationists – the so-called peripheral canal.
The canal is now a tunnel and it might actually be a beneficial method of moving fresh water around the Delta, were not for a devil’s deal between the Interior Department and major Southern California water contractors who are being given an unprecedented place at the table to help determine how much water is pumped south for what purposes.
Rep. Mike Thompson is appropriately outraged at this turn of events and was one of five members of the California Congressional delegation who wrote Salazar to object. The letter, which Thompson has released, states in part, “… we do not believe that the emerging plan is reflecting Bay-Delta constituencies’ concerns and interests. Specifically, it does not appear that the federal government is taking seriously the goal of restoring endangered salmon or that it intends to operate the Central Valley Project to meet the statutory mandate to protect, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and associated habitats.”
Meanwhile, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies of Sciences, released a review of the BDCP tunnel plan ordered by Salazar, and concluded that the draft plan is incomplete and “there are large gaps in the underlying science.” One of those gaps is the complete absence of information on how much water planners intend to ship south.
The Bay-Delta, and the Sonoma Slough it creates, shapes our backyard. This is an issue Sonomans should take seriously, especially if they have any hope of seeing a restored salmon and steelhead fishery in Sonoma Creek.