California Legislators Back Request to Delay Canal Announcement

by Dan Bache r Fifteen California legislators asked Natural Resources Secretary John Laird on July 6 to support the request of 12 Congr...

by Dan Bacher

Fifteen California legislators asked Natural Resources Secretary John Laird on July 6 to support the request of 12 Congressional Representatives to not finalize or formally announce the new framework for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral canal or tunnel “until a more detailed description is made available for review.”

Senators Lois Wolk, Jared Huffman, Mark Desaulnier, Noreen Evans, Loni Hancock and Ellen Corbett and Assembly Members Alyson Huber, Joan Buchanan, Paul Fong, Susan Bonilla, William Monning, Dr. Richard Pan, Mariko Yamada, Michael Allen and Wesley Chesbro signed the letter to Laird

. “California and the Federal Government have a long history of missteps in the Delta,” the Legislators wrote. “We urge you to put aside proposals that advance plumbing before policy and refocus the BDCP on the many sustainable solutions that can be supported by sound science and realistic financing.”

“As our congressional colleagues have pointed out, the most recent BDCP framework leaves more questions than answers, and lays significant risk with the ecosystem and communities of Northern California, and the ratepayers of Southern California. We thank you for your attention to these concerns and look forward to your response,” they stated.

Twelve Northern California Representatives on June 22 called on Obama administration officials to delay the “imminent announcement” of what they described as an an “expensive and potentially damaging water diversion project” until more details of the plan are made available.

The California Democrats warned that the unpopular plan to build a peripheral canal or tunnel – as described in a recent briefing in Washington and public meeting in Sacramento – “raises far more questions than it answers, and appears to turn the maxim of ‘policy before plumbing’ on its head.”

They called on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank to release “a far more detailed description” of the proposed new framework before Gov. Jerry Brown and Secretary Salazar make any public announcement about the plan.

U.S. Representatives George Miller, Jerry McNerney, Anna Eshoo, Mike Thompson, Doris Matsui, John Garamendi, Mike Honda, Lynn Woolsey, Jackie Speier, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren and Pete Stark signed the letter to Salazar and Blank.

The Representatives wrote that a poorly designed plan for the Bay Delta Estuary “could increase water exports from the Bay-Delta estuary — while failing to restore the Bay-Delta ecosystem and rebuild salmon and other California fisheries as required by law.”

“We ask that you not finalize or formally announce this framework until a far more detailed description is made available for review,” they said. “We do not believe it is wise to commit to massive new water pumping stations and conveyance tunnels while sustainable solutions to the problems of water quality, fish and ecosystem restoration, local impacts, and water flows are made to wait.”

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) proposal recently developed by state and federal officials would allow for the construction of massive tunnels – capable of draining the Sacramento River at a rate of 15,000 cubic feet per second – but delay any decisions about the uses of the project for as many as fifteen years.

The full letter is available here.

In a BDCP public meeting in Sacramento on June 20, Jerry Meral, Deputy Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, said the state and Department of Interior were “hoping to release” the revised conveyance plan “by the end of July.” Meral also said the draft EIR/EIS will be available “this fall.”

A San Francisco Chronicle editorial on July 9 said “Sacramento has signaled that Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will announce a plan on or about July 25 for a $14 billion tunnel to move Sacramento River water 35 miles around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to the Tracy pumps.”

Senators Boxer and Feinstein urge administrations to fast-track BDCP

On the other hand, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, in a letter sent on July 9, urged Salazar, Blank and Laird to not delay the fast-track plan to build a peripheral canal or tunnel.

“Conclusion of this process is essential to protect water supply for 25 million Californians, the long term sustainability of the Delta ecosystem and the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen. Furthermore the BDCP is the only comprehensive approach on the table to deal with the crisis. It is too late for faint hearts,” Boxer and Feinstein wrote.

“There are calls to halt the BDCP, but California can’t afford further delays. We urge you to work collaboratively with the BDCP stakeholders to make the necessary decisions about the proposed plan and promptly distribute this information to the public for review,” they stated.

Delta advocates were very disappointed by the two Senators’ call to fast-track the “conveyance” plan because the export of more Delta water would hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species.

Fishing and environmental groups support Representatives’ call

Fishing, conservation, consumer and environmental justice groups, in contrast with Senators Feinstein and Boxer, strongly back the Representatives’ request to delay the peripheral canal framework’s announcement until a far more detailed description is made available for review.

“The Golden Gate Salmon Association appreciates the hard work and message of the 12 Congressional members who are asking the Commerce and Interior Secretaries to take a long hard look at the peripheral canal before adding their support,” said Golden Gate Salmon Association President Victor Gonella. “The law currently requires the state to restore the ecological health of the delta. More freshwater flowing through the delta is needed to do this. Improved flows would improve salmon runs which translates into jobs for our members.”

“The law and common sense suggests that the state first calculate how much more water is needed from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers to achieve salmon restoration goals. That calculation should be the foundation of any plan for the delta,” Gonella emphasized.

Thirty-six California fishing, environmental and consumer advocacy organizations on June 27 demanded that the Obama administration delay the imminent announcement of a peripheral canal or tunnel proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) until “fundamental details” are made available.

For more information about the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), click here.

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