Friday, June 15, 2012

Does Water Flow Downhill or Toward Money? You Decide

By Mark Rockwell
California Field Representative
Endangered Species Coalition 

The battle over water in California took an interesting turn at the end of last month when the Governor announced that the state would move to secure an “interim” permit to construct a 15,000 cubic foot per second diversion facility on the Sacramento River.  The facility is not a new idea, as the state and federal governments have been working on getting it approved as part of a package of actions under section 10 of the Endangered Species Act - a Habitat Conservation Plan - called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, or BDCP of short.  That process has been going on for 5 years now with countless meetings, negotiations, behind the scenes efforts in Washington D.C. by well connected water contractors, and various mandates designed to achieve the bottom line ask of “more water to San Joaquin Valley agriculture and Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles.”

What has changed is that these well financed and connected water contractors were not getting what they wanted in BDCP - more water.  After many months of work the consultant doing the biological impacts report called the Effects Analysis (EA) completed their task, and released a report that actually said that several listed species would be worse off, not better, as a result of the Habitat Conservation Plan (BDCP).  Following this EA release, the state and federal wildlife agencies did their own analysis of the Effects Analysis and released a long letter, called the “Red Flags Evaluation”, that detailed the many flaws in the plan as currently being proposed.  It simply would not work to qualify as a valid HCP.  Huge problem for corporate agriculture and Los Angeles based Metropolitan Water District.

photo credit Dan Blanton
So, water contractors must have asked, “What do we do now?”  Well, in steps the Governor. Rather than have to meet the environmental requirements of a Habitat Conservation Plan, it is easier to get an interim Endangered Species Act section 7 biological opinion, do what’s needed to get federal wildlife agency approval, and build the facility.  He has stated that “we will spend 10 years to lean how to operate the facility.”  Are you kidding me?  How do fish and wildlife survive over these years?

This new facility will be located on both public and private land, with eminent domain seizures likely, and will negatively impact a National Wildlife Refuge, Stone Lakes.  It will be on 200 acres of land,  have 5 intake locations, each 3 stories in height, each supplying 5,000 cubic feet per second of water, all feeding 2 underground pipes buried 150 feet under the ground.  Each pipe will be 33 feet in diameter, larger than the “chunnel” between England and France.  In total they will have the capacity to divert 90% of the average Sacramento River flow, and will be carried 40 miles south to the pumping stations in the South Delta.  All this water will no longer be available to the Delta fish, wildlife or people. 

It’s an end run for sure and panders to the large, economically powerful interests in other parts of the state.  It leaves out the fish and wildlife that have found their way to near extinction as a result past water diversions.  It also leaves out the Delta people, communities, businesses and farmers.  The state funded Delta Protection Commission in their report, Economic Sustainability Plan for the Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta  (http://forcast.pacific.edu/desp.html) made two stark statements:
1.    the conveyance plan with 15,000 cfs facility has large conflicts with Delta economic sustainability...
2.    Continue the current through Delta water conveyance...

There is no doubt that what the Governor is trying to do would be disastrous for fish, wildlife and Delta communities. It would result in greatly higher water bills for people in southern California.  Is there a better way?  Absolutely.  They have been put forward for the past 5 years, but few are listening because it doesn’t meet water contractor expectations.  Solutions are in:  California Water Solutions NOW, (www.ewccalifornia.org)

Update 6/19: Late last week the Eberhardt School of Business at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, released the first and only Benefits vs. Cost analysis of the new diversion facility being proposed in the Habitat Conservation Plan (BDCP) for the San Francisco Bay-Delta, and now pushed by Governor Brown.  Though this very necessary analysis has been asked for by both environmental groups and state legislators, it has been missing from the decision process since BDCP began.  Now, an independent academic group has finally given all of us an educated and well organized approximation of the benefits and cost impacts of this proposed new facility.  In the report the costs are 2.5 times more than the benefits, and in the words of the report,
".... the gap between benefits and costs is so large that it seems unlikely that the tunnels could be economically justified in any future scenario."  
 Since this is estimated to be the largest infrastructure project in California history, many would say the benefits MUST out-weigh the costs, but as you can see that is certainly not even close to being true.  Since much less expensive alternatives are available, this is another reason they need to be considered before decision are made.  Governor Brown must address this glaring problem before he commits California taxpayers and water rate payers to additional financial burdens.  Let's not forget - California has the largest state deficit of all 50 states.



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