California Water Wars

Published on May 15th, 2012 | by Dan Bacher

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The fix is in: California’s peripheral canal may be unstoppable

sacramento delta plan - peripheral canal

The Delta Stewardship Council staff on May 14 released the final draft Delta Plan, drawing a response from Delta advocates that the fix is in to build a peripheral canal or tunnel that would grab millions of gallons of water for agribusiness and Southern California development, leaving fish, native tribes, and other users high and dry.

No matter what reasons the Council conjures up to back the construction of new conveyance – a euphemism for the Peripheral Canal – Delta advocates contend that exporting more water to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is the ultimate goal behind the campaign to build a canal or tunnel. The export of more Delta water will hasten the extinction of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species, according to agency and independent scientists.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD), slammed the plan for recommending the construction of new conveyance facilities as well as its failure to adopt cost benefit, public trust, water quality and flow analyses.

“[Council Executive Officer] Joe Grindstaff… says the Delta Plan recommends new conveyance as a way to improve water quality,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “Without a water quality analysis that examines how eliminating fresh water flows from entering the Delta will affect water quality, this draft of the Delta Plan is as incomplete as the last draft. The Delta Stewardship Council must build its plan on a cost benefit analysis, a public trust analysis, a water quality analysis, and a flow analysis, and until it does so, its planning will remain incomplete.”

“By indicating that new conveyance and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) will be favored by the Delta Stewardship Council, Joe Grindstaff has undermined the intent of the legislation that created the DSC. The DSC was given the charge to make its determination regarding the BDCP after members of the public appealed the merits of the plan to the DSC. But apparently, such appeals will not carry much weight if the decision has already been made. From a Delta perspective, the fix is in,” she emphasized.

Grindstaff touted the plan, submitted to the seven-member Council for review, comment and adoption, as:

 …A common sense approach to achieving the coequal goals of restoring the Delta ecosystem and providing a reliable water supply for California.

He added that, “We expect the Council to make revisions, and make a final decision after an appropriate environmental review.”

Grindstaff said the staff draft Delta Plan is the last in a series of six drafts presented to the Council over the past 14 months. It reflects public comments made on all five staff drafts and is informed by analysis contained in the draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report.

“The final staff draft Delta Plan reflects changes to policies and recommendations regarding Delta levee priorities, flow objectives, land development and water quality,” according to Grindstaff. “It also recognizes the role of various agencies involved in the Delta; and makes recommendations to ensure that responsibilities are coordinated to wisely use limited resources. The Delta Plan interagency committee, which will be established by the Council, will include agencies and others that have a role in the Delta.”

He claimed the Delta Plan is designed to:

  • Increase water supply reliability through better water management across California, more conservation and diversification of water supplies, including reduced reliance on water from the Delta watershed, and “improved Delta conveyance” and “expansion of groundwater and surface storage.” The Delta Plan recognizes the importance of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and urges its completion and successful permitting.
  • Improve the Delta ecosystem by protecting five high-priority restoration areas from development. The Delta Plan also recommends actions to reduce pollution, invasive species and more. The Delta Plan sets a deadline for the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to update flow objectives for the major rivers and tributaries of the Delta. The Delta Plan emphasizes SWRCB actions to deal with high-priority Delta-specific water quality problems, too.
  • Protect “Delta-as-a-Place” by seeking its designation as a National Heritage Area; protecting agriculture by locating urban development in cities rather than on rural farmlands; conserving legacy communities like Locke and Clarksburg; and encouraging recreation and tourism.
  • Reduce risk by improving levees and bypasses and requiring new development in the Delta floodplain to have adequate flood protection.
  • Ensure fairness by encouraging the financing principles of beneficiaries pay for benefits received and stressors pay for problems caused.

“While there is no simple low-cost plan that gives everyone what they want, it is possible for California to have the water it needs and at the same time protect the ecosystem,” Grindstaff said. “The plan identifies a path forward that develops a more reliable water supply, significantly improves the delta ecosystem while protecting the special character of Delta as it changes into the future.”

The Council will first review the final staff draft Delta Plan at its regularly-scheduled meeting on May 24 in West Sacramento and will discuss it in detail with the Council at the June 14-15 meeting.

Barrigan-Parrilla also criticized the plan’s failure to adopt the highest standards for levee improvements.

“The Delta Plan fails to call for levee improvements at the highest standard as called for by the Delta Protection Commission, and last week by the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “They are adhering to a lower levee safety standard as put forth by the Department of Water Resources. The Delta Stewardship Council is therefore failing in its mission to protect the Delta as a place.”

Created as part of the controversial water policy/water bond package by the Legislature in 2009, the Delta Stewardship Council is composed of members who represent different parts of the state and offer diverse expertise in fields such as agriculture, science, the environment, and public service. Of the seven, four are appointed by the Governor, one each by the Senate and Assembly, and the seventh is the Chair of the Delta Protection Commission. (More information is available on the DSC website.)

Phil Isenberg of Sacramento is chair of the Delta Stewardship Council. A former opponent of the peripheral canal, he is now one of its key promoters.

Isenberg served as chair of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s privately funded California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” from 2004 to 2006. He also served as chairman of Schwarzenegger’s equally controversial Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force from 2007 to 2008.

“The recommendations of the Delta Vision Task Force provided much of the structure of the major water/Delta policy changes adopted by the legislature in 2009 and signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger,” according to the Council.

The full staff draft of the Delta Plan and the Executive Summary can be found at the DSC website.

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About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.



  • Ken

    Didn’t anyone read “Cadillac Desert”??????

    Follow the money!!!!!

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