Another View: Status quo in Delta isn’t working for California

The California Department of Water Resources and its federal and state partners on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan have a legal responsibility to protect threatened species and supply water to millions of Californians. It is important to correct serious misrepresentations of facts around those responsibilities.

Natural Resources Defense Council staff attorney Doug Obegi and Defenders of Wildlife program director Kim Delfino assert that DWR “has lost sight of the bigger picture and ignored the need for long-term solutions that work within real fiscal and environmental limits,” (“  ‘Tunnel vision’ would worsen health of the Delta, California’s fish stocks,” Viewpoints, July 29).

The opposite is true. With the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, DWR and its partners have moved beyond decades of incremental, species-by-species compliance with the state and federal endangered species acts that have failed to recover Chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other species.

The draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a comprehensive habitat conservation plan that includes flow and habitat restoration actions designed to lead to the protection and recovery of 56 species of plants and animals.

The genuine legal limits that the plan must work within dictate that DWR would not take “more and more water out of the Delta,” as Obegi and Delfino assert. We estimate that the volume of water diverted from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by the federal and state water projects under the plan would be roughly 10 percent more or less than the annual average of the last 20 years.

Once implemented, the BDCP would enable meeting even more stringent flow requirements than are now in place.

We welcome the call for more investment in water recycling, more efficient use of water, and local water supply projects. The California Water Action Plan, which is Gov. Jerry Brown administration’s blueprint for water solutions, makes clear those investments are just as important as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and vital to meeting future needs.

But they are not, as Obegi and Delfino argue, mutually exclusive. To build enough local projects to replace the water the Santa Clara Valley, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California receive from the Delta would take decades, and cost billions of dollars more than stabilizing erratic Delta deliveries with a more environmentally protective conveyance system and large-scale habitat restoration.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan faces real environmental and fiscal tests. State and federal agencies will determine whether the plan satisfies the complex laws that govern habitat conservation plans. Public water agencies that depend upon water delivered from the Delta will pay roughly 70 percent of the $25 billion plan, and each agency must soon determine whether to keep investing in the plan.

Our state and federal agencies must balance competing interests while working within real environmental, legal and fiscal limits – a much different job than advocacy. The status quo in the Delta does not work for California’s natural heritage or its economy, and we bear the responsibility to change that.