Opinion: A Pivotal Year for Delta: Moving Ahead in 2011

After decades of inaction, California stands at a pivotal and promising point in the state’s water history.  A new and achievable plan for ending the crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is moving forward.  Known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan or BDCP, the plan protects both the state’s economy and its natural environment by ensuring a reliable water supply for the future while restoring the fragile fisheries of the Delta. As providers of water for 25 million people in Northern, Central and Southern California and millions of acres of productive farmland, we welcome the opportunity to work with state and federal agencies, key stakeholders, Gov. Brown’s administration and state legislators to help this critical plan become a reality.   

The water crisis in the Delta is unparalleled in our history.  Fish species are failing.  Our aging water delivery system is in dire need of modernization. Farms, industries and communities throughout the state are threatened by future water shortages. Resolving the state’s water needs in the Delta is an urgent concern in 2011.  While much focus, understandably, has fallen on the budget situation, it is important to remember that without a reliable water supply, the state’s economy cannot prosper.

Momentum is on our side. Late last year, the BDCP Steering Committee compiled its findings and plans thus far, moving the plan into a new stage of development. Technical studies are now under way that will help determine the project description for the BDCP, which will then undergo rigorous environmental reviews.  Among the many technical questions currently being addressed: What type of new canal or tunnel system for conveying water will practically meet the state’s water supply needs while at the same time protect fish and help restore the Delta’s ecosystem?  

The new conveyance system is necessary to supplement the existing system, which is vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding and operating at odds with the natural flows of the Delta. It is important to note that the cost of any new tunnel or canal will be covered by those who actually use the exported water, not the state’s general coffers. Additionally, the 2012 water bond includes critically-needed funding for BDCP’s habitat restoration efforts.

The BDCP has been an enormous and significant undertaking.  Four years have gone into its creation. The plan was developed by a diverse collection of state and federal wildlife officials, water agencies, environmental leaders, scientists and public policy experts.  The process has been open, collaborative and anchored by solid science. The far-reaching plan will restore nearly 115,000 acres of natural habitat and protect numerous threatened and endangered species.

Ultimately, the BDCP will serve as the means for achieving long-term permits under the federal Endangered Species Act that are needed by the state and federal water projects to enable future water deliveries. Without the BDCP, the crisis in the Delta will only deepen, threatening both the ecosystem and the health and economic well-being of the cities, industries and agricultural sectors that depend on the Delta for a portion of their water needs. Although just 17 percent of the water that flows into the Delta in an average year is exported through the state and federal projects, every drop is critical.

Time is of the essence and we strongly urge the Brown administration to put the Delta and BDCP at the top of its priority list. We will need the continued leadership of state and federal agencies to make key planning decisions this year. With the progress we’ve made, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan now stands as the most reasonable and promising solution for healing the Delta and ensuring a stable water supply for California.  

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