Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.–C. S. Lewis
The North Delta gets explicit about BDCP. Last week, Local Agencies of the North Delta (LAND), a coalition of eleven North Delta Reclamation and Water Districts, and farming, community and environmental groups, released a joint letter to Deputy Resources Secretary Dr. Jerry Meral identifying how the proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) conveyance project would harm Delta wildlife, communities and farming.This is the first time that local farming, water and reclamation districts, and environmental advocates in the Deltahave come together to identify how the BDCP would devastate not only local farming but also endangered and rare birds and their habitat.Dr. Meral has asserted to the media and to the Legislature that he is in constant communication with local interests, but local concerns remain completely unaddressed. According to Ken Pucci, a member of the LAND Coalition, “Delta stakeholders’ concerns continue to be ignored or mischaracterized as this Administration steamrolls forward with the pre-packaged BDCP.”1. Major points made in the letter:The area adjacent to Hood and Courtland on the Sacramento River where the BDCP proposes to place massive intakes, a forebay and associated facilities includes vibrant rural communities, historic features, productive and sustainable multi-generational farms, and one-of-a-kind habitat for special status species protected by state, federal and international law.2. Due to its unique historical, cultural, economic, agricultural and environmental values, the local area has no suitable location for a two-square-mile Intermediate Forebay (ring dam) or any of the associated conveyance and storage facilities, including the 5 intakes for a 15,000 cfs capacity system and powerline infrastructure. All locations for such a massive forebay and the associated facilities would have unacceptable impacts on local communities, productive agriculture, important wildlife habitat and other environmental resources.3. Alternatives are available that would have less severe impacts on Delta communities, farms and habitat. In particular, the Western Delta Intake Concept (“WDIC”) provides a promising option that would locate a similar-scaled intake on primarily publicly owned land in the Western Delta, thereby facilitating more natural freshwater flows through the Delta that the BDCP allegedly supports. In addition, conveyance of water through the Delta will continue to be a necessary part of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, and should be improved.4. Any proposed BDCP diversions, conveyance and storage facilities planned for the North Delta, which the signers of the letter (among others) oppose, must be designed first and foremost to avoid impacts in the first place, secondly to effectively mitigate those impact, and thirdly to provide some level of offsetting in-Delta benefit.Despite repeated requests for such a conceptual redesign and analysis, the BDCP has continued to propose the most socially and environmentally damaging proposal and simply rearranged the details when concerns were voiced regarding those impacts.Osha Meserve, who represents the LAND Coalition on the BDCP explained: “I have been attending BDCP public meetings since March 2008, and the responsiveness of BDCP to both scientific and local concerns has only worsened. The BDCP has major flaws that we have tried to help the BDCP proponents fix in order to reduce local impacts and to make the plan more likely to succeed. But when we talk about how BDCP would destroy local farms and the [Stone Lakes] Refuge, for instance, they only want to know what mitigation we want in exchange for that damage. No mitigation can make up for the damage that the BDCP would do to Delta farms, wildlife habitat and waterways.”
Just an “Aw, shucks” kinda guy. On Saturday, March 3, Jerry Meral dropped by Stockton for a community forum at the Civic Auditorium. He led the 200 or so attendees in singing Happy Birthday to forum facilitator and Stockton city council member Susan Eggman; told the group that BDCP will reduce the amount of San Joaquin County land it wants to convert to habitat; and spent a lot of time talking about the benefits of BDCP for reducing flood risk.If council member Kathy Miller hadn’t asked about conveyance, Meral would never have addressed it.Meral didn’t stick around to hear presentations by the other seven speakers or audience questions and concerns raised during the rest of the program. He’s a busy person.BDCP doesn’t have much to show for months of working group activities except in the case of the Yolo Bypass, which of course has flood management as well as species protection benefits. The benefits to species of the Yolo Bypass improvements got a lot of coverage at the recent BDCP meeting.Meral’s message now seems to be: Hey, we can have all kinds of habitat and flood management improvements in the Delta with BDCP, but without a canal or tunnel, who will pay for them?Last week the NY Times ran an articleon the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, and BDCP got just a brief mention. Reading it, you’d think that flood protection planning was the most important planning effort going forward in California right now. And while it should be, we know that is not what is really happening on the ground.We can’t lose sight of the fact that BDCP has always been about export conveyance. Suggesting that a strategy to secure export water somehow enhances comprehensive Central Valley flood protection planning efforts is a diversionary and opportunistic message.
In the Lion’s Den. Also at the meeting in Stockton was Westlands Water District chief deputy general manager Jason Peltier. He tried to focus on what Westlands and Delta farmers have in common, although that is kind of a hard case to make. (It might have been easier for him if there had been more farmers in the audience, but this was a work day for them, so the case for the Delta was being made primarily by Delta cities and counties, fisheries and recreation advocates, and environmentalists.)Peltier noted that Delta farmers get 100% of the water they need. Well, yes, they have riparian and other senior water rights, and from the beginning, Westlands was intended to receive only water that was surplus to needs in the Delta and the upper watersheds. They and Kern County water users receive about 80% of the water exports taken from the Delta.He talked about the myth (“almost bigotry”) of evil corporate farmers, noting that Westlands farmers have to plant more valuable crops to afford water on the open market. Well, yes, but when giant growers can’t get enough water for those more-valuable crops (like almonds), why should the Delta be asked to suffer?Stockton City Council member Kathy Miller noted that the issue is not incorporation (lots of Delta farmers are incorporated, too) but the percentage of farmers to acres being farmed. They may be perfectly legal, those giant swathes of Westlands acreage being irrigated with federal project water by landowners who may not live anywhere near their land. Let’s not call those landowners evil. But arrogant isn’t too strong a word for some of them. And perhaps suffering from a false sense of entitlement.Unlike Jerry Meral, Jason Peltier stayed for the whole meeting. We appreciate that.
Restore the Delta is a grassroots campaign committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. Restore the Delta – a coalition of Delta residents, business leaders, civic organizations, community groups, faith-based communities, union locals, farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists – seeks to strengthen the health of the estuary and the well-being of Delta communities. Restore the Delta works to improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.