On May 14, the California Senate held a Joint Hearing by the Senate Natural resources and Water Committee and the Select Committee on The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta BDCP. Seven BDCP stakeholders were invited to speak including Metropolitan Water District, Westlands Water District, Sacramento County Representative, Contra Cost Water Representative, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Representative among others.
Most interesting was the dichotomy between Jason Peltier, Westlands Water District, and the Doug Obegi, the NRDC Representative. Also noteworthy was the extent of angst expressed by the Sacramento County representative, Don Nottoli, while describing in detail how the tunnel construction destruction would affect the Delta residents, towns, waterways, farmers, etc. To hear the video recording, <a href="Joint Hearing by the Senate Natural resources and Water Committee and the Select Committee on The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta BDCP<a href="Click here.
Mr. Peltier described the massive BDCP document and defended the fact that in the BDCP there will be mistakes, errors, mis-statements and policy issues. Maps will change, analysis will evolve.
He went on to say that the BDCP will be kind of a living document in many ways. He felt that this body of work reflects our best use science as we know it and added “Some will say the science is inadequate. They are correct in that.”
Mr. Peltier then painted a picture of the Delta and ecosystem as so complex that no one could possibly know how it can or should function. He said that the body of Delta experts and scientists often don’t know what they see right in front of them. He commented on the “red flag” letters from the fish agencies and read an excerpt from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) comments and then replied to those comments as follows: “My translation of that [report] is a question – how has it, how is it and how will it function in the future – this Delta ecosystem? Is that at all possible for us to understand how this ecosystem works?” Then he criticized those agencies’ objections by saying “It’s been their responsibility for decades.”
Regarding the fish decline, Mr. Peltier offered, “It’s a combination of everything. We don’t know the answer. What we do know is the pump-centric regulatory operations have failed. We have 20 years of evidence to that end. That is why we want to take a comprehensive ecosystem approach. This may be too complex but the simplistic approach hasn’t produced results.”
[STCDA interjection – It isn’t the “simplistic approach” that has failed, it is the continued increase in export levels over the past years that has caused the Delta crisis.]
While Jason Peltier felt the Delta ecosystem was just too, too complicated for anyone to comprehend, Doug Obegi Staff Attorney for the NRDC had a much clearer view.
Mr. Obegi stated that the state has been solely focused on maximizing the exports from the Delta whereas most reports acknowledge we need to reduce exports from the Delta. That the current flows are not sustainable. As the SWRCB found in 2010, the current water flows are inadequate to confirm the public trust. We need to reduce reliance on the Delta and invest in alternatives. On the water supply side, the BDCP is not meeting the risks. Does it means more water from the Delta? Does it mean physical reliability? Ultimately we need to also make the existing pumps more reliable. We need to invest in alternatives. None of the alternatives in the BDCP include investments in local supplies, no investments in levee improvements. Mr. Obegi advocates the portfolio alternative supported by the 5 county supervisors.
[Note: The portfolio alternative proposed by the NRDC still includes a new northern intake, albeit only 3,000 CFS. STCDA still worries about the construction size and impacts of any new intake and resulting pipeline which may go directly through the Delta. Instead, new sources should be sought including the Tulare Lake Basin or other south-of-delta ground water recharge for the central valley and desalination for southern California coupled with increased conservation (agriculture in the desert as well as urban) and recycling.]
Mr. Obegi felt there is a better path than the BDCP is on – to reduce reliance on the Delta and invest in new sources, levees and a smaller conveyance. Massive investments in the Delta [tunnels] could constrain rate payers in funding conservation and recycling investments in their areas.
An interesting exchange between Mr. Peltier and Mr. Obegi during the question period further illustrated the issue. Mr. Peltier asked “A question for Doug who repeatedly advocates we need to reduce the water we get from the Delta. We’ve had 40, 60, 90% cutbacks. Is your vision 50,70, 100% cutbacks in the future? Is that the success for you?”
Mr. Obegi’s response again clarified that the BDCP is only focused on exporting water, not a big picture solution: “I don’t measure success by water supply from the Delta but how we invest in water conservation, etc. Even during years when Westlands has been cut back, the state exported all that water from the environment. The state increased their exports. The environment kind of got screwed and you [Westlands] kind of got screwed. Ultimately I think Westlands is in a tough spot. Part of why we included storage [in NRDC’s portfolio alternative] is we looked when Kern got surplus water but because Westlands doesn’t have storage it makes it difficult to have growers plan around it. If you had more south of Delta storage you’d be able to do [better planning]”.
Senator Fran Pavley asks the $64,000 question – “Why is it so hard to get the science right on the Delta Flows?
One answer was that it’s a moving target. Salmon spend 2, 3 or 4 years out in the ocean exposed to other factors. And you need several life cycles for statistical data to drive to a conclusion.
Doug Obegi counters “This is the best studied estuary in the world. The real challenge is that the biological science is less hard than the political science. Even the regulators in their private moments have concern that we can’t have a project that exports less than ‘fill in the blank’. ‘The documents put out by the BDCP have always been developed by the water contractors and their scientists.”
Jason Peltier, Westlands again disagreed with “Please don’t fall into the trap of looking for scientific certainty. We aren’t going to find it. I disagree with Doug that the scientists know what we need in terms of flow. I totally disagree with that.”
Sen. Pavley added “I was struck by the editorial that the PPIC survey by top independent scientists who supposedly have expertise in Delta issues and 80 percent of them felt that flows was the major issue and [on the other hand] the exporters in general were mostly looking at invasive species or ammonia or some other reasons why the flow doesn’t need to be the primary reason. It seems too many red flags are going up that we are going to have to approach the delta flow question.”
Lois Welk adds that unless the Delta stakeholders are at the table there will be no resolution to the problem. In the past there have been no Delta stakeholders in the process.
Senator Galgiani says why the Delta can’t be at the table is today there is only one option that is being discussed which isn’t acceptable to the Delta stakeholders and that is the Delta Tunnels. She would like to look at the tunnels plus some other projects side by side to evaluate what we should be doing.
Westlands talked about the human side of the problem but then stated: “We’ve given a lot of money and water to the environment over the past years. Are we ready to give more? No.”