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January 24, 2013

Governor, You Can Do Better in the Delta

In his annual “State of the State” address today, Governor Brown was clear about his solution to the environmental crisis in the Bay-Delta estuary. “My proposed plan is two tunnels 30 miles long and 40 feet wide,” he said, “designed to improve the ecology of the Delta, with almost 100 square miles of habitat restoration.”

The governor inherited the project known as the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan from his predecessor, but has since adopted it as his own. To its credit, the administration recognized the following problems with that inherited project from the beginning:

  • the proposal would take even more water from the flow-starved Bay-Delta estuary;
  • failing to include water management practices like conservation that could reduce the need to export Delta water;
  • substituting wetland habitat restoration (a good thing) for improving the amount and timing of ecologically vital flows into, through and from the Delta to San Francisco Bay (an even more important thing); and,
  • the fact that this plan would actually increase the chances of extinction for species it is required to help recover.

While improved in some ways from the old plan, unfortunately the project Governor Brown called for today serves at best to perpetuate the status quo. The project would still allow as much or more water to be exported from the Delta than the current amounts that are both unsustainable AND driving the collapse of the Bay-Delta ecosystem. The project would  also leave out the part of the plan that reduces exporter reliance on the Delta through aggressive implementation of water recycling, reuse and other measures.

The status quo is not acceptable in the Delta and the proposed project could make things even worse. There is a better way to solve our environmental and water supply problems. A week ago, The Bay Institute, other environmental groups, business interests, and major urban water suppliers in both northern and southern California like the San Diego County Water Authority, East Bay Municipal Utility District, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, released an alternative to the governor’s plan that represents a far more environmentally, politically and economically feasible approach to solving the Delta problem. The main elements of that plan:

Building a single, more affordable diversion and tunnel – one-third the size of the governor’s proposal – to guarantee that vital drinking water supplies are never interrupted in the event of a major seismic or flooding event.

Providing more flow to San Francisco Bay, in conjunction with large-scale floodplain and wetland restoration, to ensure that endangered species and habitats and our economically valuable sport and commerical fisheries can recover and thrive.

Investing up to $5 billion in water conservation, recycling, reuse and other approaches, along with developing additional storage capacity south of the Delta. Together, conservation and smart storage can generate far more water for Californians than increasing the amount of water taken from the already oversubscribed Bay-Delta system.

California has a history of building water projects that worsen the problems they’re supposed to solve. We still have a chance to get this one right before it’s finalized, permitted and constructed – if the governor would only listen.









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