Governor Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan has its Critics

Water has always been a hot topic in California. Historically, California water districts have drained and damned large amounts of water from across the Sierras to support California’s ever-growing population. Governor Brown has devised a plan to send more water to Central and Southern California from the Delta under the Bay Delta Conservation Plant (BDCP).  The BDCP’s website declares it as a “50-year habitat conservation plan with the goals of restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem and securing California water supplies.”  According to the BDCP, Californian’s risk a loss of safe and secure drinking water, damage to the statewide economy, and further degradation of natural resources including extinction of local species if no action is taken. Opponents that include California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) and Restore the Delta state that it’s a costly project with severe ecological and environmental consequences from construction and water removal from the Delta, that will ultimately support big agri-business and not the majority of the California public.

Owen's Lake in the background. It was drained of water to supply Los Angeles in the early 1900s.
Owen’s Lake in the background. It was drained of water to supply Los Angeles in the early 1900s.

The most hotly debated topic of the BDCP is the plant to install underground “twin tunnels” that would pump water to Central and Southern California, as far south as San Diego. Along with the Twin Tunnels, the plan includes to restore and protect 150,000 acres of habitat along the delta.  One of the environmental impacts includes the likely killing of endangered species when the state gets an exemption from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That exemption would allow for the project to kill Endangered Species for the first 50 years. Other impacts include reducing the water quality of the delta not only through sediment but saltwater intrusion and reintroduction of heavy metals such as lead into the food chain.

Proponents of the BDCP say the plan would help species over time and the United States Fish and Wildlife would not authorize a take permit (defined by the ESA as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect) for a threatened or endangered species if they thought the project would cause an extinction. Backers of the plan also state that the money being spent will improve waterways and breeding grounds for salmon that are currently damaged and in need of repair. In the long run, whether the Delta’s habitat will improve or not is a concern of many, with both sides of the argument having their reasons.

With environmental factors aside, the BDCP will not be an inexpensive project to implement.  Paul Rogers reported at Mercury News that the project may cost as much as 67 billion dollars to implement. Karia Nemeth with the California Natural Resources Agency writes that the state and federal water contractors will only foot part of the bill for included conservation measures and “public funding would pay for the conservation measures or portions thereof that will produce statewide public benefits”. With the state already in a financial predicament, the costs of this project will add to the state’s deficit. Although, sometimes it’s justified for the state to spend money when there is already a substantial amount of debt for the greater good of the California public (i.e. education, healthcare), opponents say there are more efficient and financially sound ways to secure water and protect Delta habitat than the BDCP.

Other options besides the BDCP include water conservation, reinforcing existing levees, recycling water, storm-water capture, and improved irrigation and farming techniques. Water has always been the key to success in California through the gold mining days to the explosive growth of cities like Los Angeles and California’s booming Central Valley agriculture industry. It’s important to look at what happened historically to the watersheds that those cities have drained and the costs that have occurred both financially and environmentally. Reexamining the use and treatment of our current water supply may be a healthier option for our environment and pockets then building more water infrastructure like the “Twin Tunnels.”

The plan is currently open for public comment, to learn more you can visit the official site for the BDCP, and environmental groups like C-WIN, and Restore the Delta.

 

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