The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have released new “red flag” documents in response to the administrative draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). These documents identify issues with BDCP that would make the fisheries agencies unwilling to issue the necessary “take” permits for a habitat conservation plan under the Endangered Species Act.
For example, the NMFS response identifies a potential for increased salmon egg morality upstream resulting from release operations at Keswisk Reservoir at Shasta required by BDCP. Juvenile salmon in the Sacramento River would also be at risk under some scenarios.
The likely extinction of winter and spring run Chinook salmon is an inevitable consequence of shifting water exports to the Spring months, which is what BDCP wants to do. Reducing flows in the upper Sacramento River in Summer and Fall of dry years creates problems that are not going to go away.
As for habitat in the Delta offsetting the loss of fresh water for fish, the USFWS called the prospects for fish such as Delta smelt and longfin smelt “uncertain.”
Since the point of a habitat conservation plan is to make things better for threatened species, not worse, you’d think a problem like this would be a game-changer. And it would, if the game weren’t rigged. It would be just like BDCP planners to tweak the models to eliminate or disguise the obvious problems that keep arising when they look for ways to get lots of export water without harming fish.
Or is it the point?
While speaking with a representative from the California Water Impact Network at a recent meeting with Northern California’s Native American Tribes, Jerry Meral said, “BDCP is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved.”
Now if Governor Brown and State officials would just stop pretending it’s a habitat plan to save fish when speaking with the press.
Don’t look to the Trinity River for more water
The salmon that BDCP is supposed to protect are increasingly dependent on Trinity River flows. The Trinity is the only out-of-basin water supply diverted into the Central Valley. It is the largest tributary to the Klamath River, and it flows though the Hoopa Valley Reservation and Humboldt County.
In 1964, the Bureau of Reclamation began delivering Trinity River water to the Central Valley through tunnels. Federal and state law limited those deliveries by setting aside water for fisheries and making available an additional 50,000 acre-feet supply for economic development by Humboldt County and other users. Thus far, the Bureau has failed to honor this water right, and it only recently began to honor fisheries commitments through implementation of the 2000 Trinity River Record of Decision.
Humboldt County and the Hoopa Valley Tribe have repeatedly warned the Governor and BDCP planners that it is a mistake to assume that 50,000 acre-feet of Humboldt’s Trinity water is available for use outside the North Coast region.
Shining a bright light on water rights
Former Brown Administration Resources Secretary Huey Johnson, president of the Resource Renewal Institute (RRI), has unveiled the first-ever public “California Water Rights Atlas.” This online tool will enable citizens, policymakers, media and others to view thousands of current California water rights claims.
Here’s a link to the atlas.Right up front, you learn that California gets an average of 71 million acre feet of usable water from annual precipitation.But currently, water rights holders claim they divert, in aggregate, approximately 250 million acre feet of water each year.
“For the past century, powerful special interests claimed ownership of both real and imaginary water through political contributions,” said Johnson. “Other states outgrew this corrupt practice long ago, but not California. The California Water Rights Atlas may be the sunlight that finally breaks the fog bank of chaos and mismanagement that cripples the state’s water system.”
Goodbye “beneficiary pays”
Fran Spivy-Weber, who has served on the State Water Resources Control Board since 2007 and was recently reappointed by Governor Brown to another four-year term, was the keynote speaker at the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) conference last week. (CMUA was formed “to protect the interests of California’s consumer-owned utilities before the California Legislature.”)
Spivy-Weber reportedly acknowledged that cost overruns for the BDCP were “inevitable” and that discussions were underway to determine who would pay for these.
She is also reported to have said that commitment to “beneficiary pays” will not stand and the public will be called on to pick up some of the costs.
Of course, Spivy-Weber is not part of the BDCP planning process. Nevertheless, it is remarkable to have a representative of any State agency make these admissions. We saw this coming. At least here, we can all just stop pretending.
What we’d like to hear Spivy-Weber say is that the Water Board is going to come up with flow criteria for the Delta that actually balance the public trust with water export demands. It’s time to stop pretending about that, too.
But then again, State officials don’t have to bother with balancing the public trust if they believe that the Delta cannot be saved.
Resolutions of Necessity hearing delayed
The California Water Commission has notified us that the Commission will not be considering amendments to Resolutions of Necessity in April, as we previously announced. The items will probably be considered on May 15.