At Sacramento Rally, Garamendi Highlights Serious Flaws in the Current Bay Delta Conservation Plan Proposal

Jul 25, 2012 Issues: Environment, Water

SACRAMENTO, CA – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a Member of the House Natural Resources Committee and former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Interior Department, today urged a holistic approach in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) process at a Sacramento rally held in response to Governor Jerry Brown's water announcement. Garamendi was joined by farmers, fishermen and fisherwomen, conservationists, consumer advocates, and bipartisan public officials who are worried that the BDCP process is going down the wrong path.

"Today I flew back to California to make it clear to state and federal lawmakers where I stand: the 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) conveyance facility being proposed could wreak havoc on the Delta and the jobs it sustains and put existing water rights in the Delta and Northern California at risk," said Congressman John Garamendi. "It is possible for California to solve its water problems, but the Delta and Northern California counties must be at the table, and it will take a comprehensive, multifaceted approach, not just a piece of plumbing in the Delta. We must address the needs of all Californians by prioritizing storage, conservation, recycling, levee improvements, and habitat restoration. A BDCP without these elements is incomplete at best."

Garamendi urged Governor Brown and other federal and state officials to address serious gaps in the current BDCP proposal. These concerns are outlined below.

Gaps in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that Must be Addressed

1. A 9,000 cfs facility is only economically viable if South of the Delta exporters are provided guarantees of 5.3 million acre feet per year.

Thus far, the State has failed to engage in a thorough cost-benefit analysis that examines the costs and benefits to all regions in the state. However, a narrowly focused benefits analysis conducted by Dr. David Sunding, who was commissioned by the State, found that a 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) facility is only economically justified if and when annual water supply guarantees of 5.3 million acre feet (MAF) are provided to South of the Delta exporters.

Similarly, an independent study by Dr. Jeffrey Michaels found that without these guarantees, a 9,000 cfs facility is not cost-effective, with the costs outweighing the benefits 2.5:1.

Additionally, resource agencies have indicated that if the State moves forward with a 9,000 cfs facility, maximum export levels will be approximately 1 MAF more than what is needed for a sustainable Delta.

So one question that must be asked: where will this 1 MAF of water for the Delta come from? In a recent response letter to 11 California Members of Congress Secretary Laird states, "Nor would the BDCP in any way reduce the power of the State Water Resources Control Board or US EPA to equitably distribute the obligation to protect water quality and aquatic life among all water right holders." This statement confirms that a 9,000 cfs facility could potentially shift the burden of mitigation for sending water exports south to more senior water rights holders in the Delta and northern California, including those held by farmers, municipalities, and wildlife refuges. With the 9,000 cfs facility announced as the Governor's preferred project, it is absolutely imperative that the Governor make a firm commitment to ensure adequate flows to the Delta and that existing water rights for those in the Delta and upstream are not at risk.

2. The current proposed facility is sized to suck the Sacramento River dry.

USGS data prove that a 9,000 cfs facility operated at full capacity would be unsustainable for the Delta. From 2000-2010, mean monthly flows were less than 18,000 cfs at the Freeport water gauge during 74 out of 144 months. This indicates that on average a 9,000 cfs facility operating at capacity could divert over 50% of the river more than half of the time. Furthermore, in water years 2007-2009, when conditions were particularly dry, mean monthly flows were less than 18,000 cfs during 28 out of 36 months, meaning a 9,000 cfs facility could divert more than half of the river 78% of the time. Finally, in May 2008, October 2008, and December 2008, mean monthly flows at Freeport were less than 9,000 cfs, and thus a 9,000 cfs facility could drain the Sacramento River completely dry in these periods. While current state and federal environmental laws will govern the operation and would require reduced diversions during dry periods, there will undoubtedly be temptation to use more water than what is sustainable.

For this reason, as the BDCP process moves forward, a full range of alternatives, including no new facility and a 3,000 and 6,000 cfs facility must be given full and equal consideration. A smaller sized facility could prove to be more cost-effective and more successful in meeting the legally binding co-equal goals of water supply reliability for California and Delta protection and restoration. Furthermore, a robust analysis must weigh the option of phasing construction of a new facility, one intake at a time, an approach that would be consistent with the adaptive management called for by the BDCP.

3. The current proposal calls for plumbing before policy.

The current course of the BDCP appears to turn the long-standing practice of "policy before plumbing" upside down. To this date, BDCP documents that have been released imply that the NEPA/CEQA process will proceed, but operational rules that determine how the facility will be managed and the actual level of exports will be determined by a "decision tree" that currently lacks any meaningful specifics. The operation of the facility must be guided by the best available, sound science and strong biological objectives. Thus, an enforceable policy must be put in place to address issues of Delta flows, water quality, species recovery, and ecosystem restoration before any commitment is made to a particular conveyance facility.

4. The dual conveyance proposal fails to address degraded Delta levees.

The current BDCP proposal calls for dual conveyance with water also being pumped through the Delta. This means exporters will continue to rely on the Delta and its levees to transport the water even after a facility is built. Yet, the recent document "State and Federal Principals Joint Recommendations Regarding Key Elements of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan," released by state and federal agencies on July 16, 2012, fails to include any provisions regarding necessary improvements to the Delta's levee infrastructure.

Reports released by the Delta Protection Commission and the Public Policy Institute of California estimate the cost of seismic levee upgrades to be between $2 billion and $4 billion, significantly less than the cost of a 9,000 cfs facility, and it is likely that these improvements could be completed long before any conveyance facility. Furthermore, armoring key Delta levees is critical for protecting human life, the Delta agricultural economy, several major highways, gas and power lines, and other costly infrastructure. As the BDCP process moves forward, the plan must incorporate a strategy to strengthen the Delta levees that the exporters have been highly dependent on for nearly 80 years and will continue to be under any dual conveyance proposal.

5. We need a comprehensive water vision for California.

The BDCP, at this point, is not a comprehensive solution to California's water problems and will not create a single drop of additional water. In the recently released joint recommendations, agencies acknowledge that actions including storage, recycling, conservation, and flood protection for the Central Valley are necessary elements to achieving the coequal goals. However, these recommendations specifically state that these "elements are not part of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan."

A critical question is, why not? Storage projects, such as expansion of Los Vaqueros, construction of Sites Reservoir, and conjunctive management of aquifers, deserve thorough analysis and attention and have potential to increase both water supply and flexibility in timing of water deliveries. Water recycling in Southern California could increase water supply by more than one million acre feet.

The state needs to change the piecemeal course that the BDCP is on by incorporating strategies proven to increase water supply, and only then will the BDCP begin to shape into a more comprehensive vision for California's water needs.