Alternatives to Bay Delta plan surfacing

January 16, 2013 9:00pm
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Californians could avoid spending billions of dollars on a massive twin tunnel scheme to siphon much of the Sacramento River to the farms in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles under alternatives to the Bay Delta plan that are surfacing.

One plan, new to the public, is from a group that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council. The other is an amplification of a plan that would take water after it passes through the Delta.

Supporters say their plans could also increase water supply and strengthen protections for the ailing delta ecosystem and its fisheries.

The draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan, centering on massive tunnels, is expected to be released next month. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the largest estuary in the West and a critical source of water supply for more than 22 million Californians.

“This is the kind of fresh approach that is needed to protect the Bay-Delta environment, state taxpayers, and meet California’s water needs,” says Rep. George Miller, D-Concord, speaking of the NRDC plan. “I know how powerful it can be when thoughtful environmentalists, business leaders and urban water agencies reach common ground on the water solutions that are so critical to our state’s future.”

The NRDC proposal, “A Portfolio-Based Conceptual Alternative for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan,” proposes a smaller, less expensive new water tunnel in the delta, and investing the cost savings in water recycling and conservation to meet the long-term water needs of cities and farms.

Additional savings could be used to shore up the delta’s levees and to increase water storage south of the delta. Collectively, this package of solutions would cost billions of dollars less than the $18 billion price tag for the current draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan that is narrowly focused on a much larger set of twin tunnels and habitat restoration.

A group of conservation and business groups, including the Bay Institute, the Contra Costa Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Entrepreneurs, the Planning and Conservation League and the Natural Resources Defense Council, sent a letter urging outgoing U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral and Commissioner Michael Connor to consider seriously their alternative as they move forward to finalize the plan for the future of the delta.

Separately, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and a group of urban water agencies, including Contra Costa Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Alameda County Water District, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, San Diego County Water Authority and Otay Water District also sent a joint letter in support of careful analysis of the new proposal.

The other proposal, put forth by engineer Robert Pyke of Walnut Creek, would take water from the Delta at Sherman Island, after it has meandered naturally through the Delta.

Mr. Pyke has amplified on his plan, made public earlier, saying it would involve construction of new permeable embankments built inside the Delta’s existing levees along approximately 22,000 feet of the Sacramento River and 31,000 feet of the San Joaquin River. They would be the world’s largest and finest fish screens, he says, allowing water to be extracted from the Delta with minimal impact on the Delta’s fish populations..

The NRDC proposal calls for dramatically increasing local water recycling and conservation which would boost water supply overall and improve the reliability of water in dry years by investing in local solutions south of the delta.

“In the investment community, it is accepted wisdom that a diversified portfolio is a wise strategy to minimize risk and obtain an acceptable return,” says Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

He says the alternative plan his coalition is supporting is a comprehensive approach “to show how we can produce improved water supplies and a healthier Bay-Delta at a lower cost. This is the kind of integrated, science-based and economically sound approach that is needed to break the logjam in the delta debate and demonstrate that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand.”

Adds Gary Bobker, program director at The Bay Institute, “It's impossible to solve the Delta's problems without looking outside the Delta to put in place the water management strategies that ensure California uses its finite water resources more wisely.”


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Mike Wade 1/17/13 10:23 AM
This 'new approach' that reduces the export of water that flows through the Delta to 3,000 cfs is anything but new; it has been studied under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan since March 2012. It can be found at Individuals and organizations are grasping at straws to further delay a resolution to California's water dilemma. It is ironic that the recent proposals submitted to the BDCP focuses on isolated conveyance when many of those involved have previously opposed underground tunnels as a solution. It is also difficult to understand that a reduced water supply equals more water for users, as repeatedly suggested by the author. Significantly absent from this group of environmental organizations and business groups are public water agencies that represent large swaths of some of the state's most productive farmland. Not surprising, this 'new' proposal would be devastating to farmers in California's San Joaquin Valley. Mike Wade California Farm Water Coalition

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