[UPDATED: April 1st] On March 1, the meeting room at Martin Luther King Library was crowded with over 100 attendees, estimated by a show of hands to be 80% League of Women Voters members and 20% non-members. The presenters were excellent, offering a wide range of views. It was refreshing to hear them debate each other’s arguments. As one presenter said in apres-event chit-chat, “If you don’t hear speakers contradicting each other, you know something is wrong, you haven’t pulled together a broad enough set of points of view.”
Five presenters at the BDCP Forum have shared their slides with the LWV. The links are below in the story.
General links recommended by the panel include
The roster of six experts spoke for 10 to 20 minutes each. Moderation duties were ably conducted by League members Gloria Hoo, Rita Norton, and Cathy Lazarus, while Sue Graham handled the final Q & A period. Many thanks to Pat Showalter who orginally proposed this forum. [See lovely photo at end of this article.]
Caveat Lector [Reader Beware]:
This article attempts to capture the key points of the speakers at this BDCP forum, trying to fairly paraphrase their remarks. The Leagues of Santa Clara Valley have not fact-checked any of these statements, so please take the highlights we present as the a best-effort rendition of the opinions of the speakers. The League has no position on this matter as of the writing of this article. So please realize the language below is a description of what the speaker said, not what the Leagues of Santa Clara Valley endorse or have fact-checked.
Santa Clara Valley Water District
The Santa Clara Valley Water District is the water wholesaler which delivers water to the majority of water retailers used by us county residents. A key point of Ms. Maher’s presentation is that finally, after decades, there is a comprehensive plan across the many water authorities, but the BDCP is just one element of several of that coordinated approach. She said over 56 endangered fish species will be helped by implementation of the BDCP, while at the same time our deliveries of water to Santa Clara County will be better insured against interruptions and earthquake risk. Paying for the BDCP plan would involve a small increase – from $2 to $7 – to an average monthly residential water bill.
Mr. Schmutte showed interesting maps, map animations and photos to suggest how much the delta has changed in 150 years and how the current system of levees is unsustainable in his opinion. Many fish species have suffered from the disappearance of habitat including salmon; they often need to be trucked over dry spots. The levees which are concrete don’t offer the baby salmon any place to hide from predator stripped bass.
Areas near the levees, whether dirt levees or concrete levees, are over 20 feet below sea-level and are becoming unfarmable because of salt seepage.
Salination from the ocean is reaching farther and farther up the Delta rivers when our droughts occur, reducing the habitat for fishes. At this point, an earthquake could cause the collapse and sinking of many Delta islands, allowing salt water throughout the entire Delta. The BDCP plan with its twin tunnels will mitigate all that.
DEIDRE DES JARDINS
Sierra Club of California Water Committee
Ms. Des Jardins began her remarks by saying Mr. Schmutte was overstating the earthquake risk of a complete Delta collapse, which in her opinion was not likely. She said that his scenario could only occur if the epicenter were immediately under the Delta, not 45 miles away at the Hayward fault. Quake waves mainly dissipate down. During Loma Prietta there were no levee failures.
She is critical of the current BDCP plan because it does not give enough consideration to climate change. She argued that the “drier” climate change models of the future had not been given enough weight in planner assumptions, and hence the current plan is expensive and yet can’t save us. Planners expect — unrealistically — to be able to take resevoir levels down to the minimum in consecutive years. That’s a gamble. In consecutive dry years of the future, there won’t be enough flow going down the Sacramento to use even the exisiting pumps there nor the higher capacity proposed new tunnel pumps. There will be ocean salinity going right up to the mouth of the tunnels rendering them useless.
She advocates the Sierra club alternative — it emphasizes spending on water efficiency and water recycling infrastructure instead of tunnels and flow diversion. She also said the habitat restoration is not funded in the BDCP; it just part of the larger unfunded strategy. Similarly, she said that much needed levee improvement to protect the population and built infrastructure in the Delta is not funded in the BDCP either.
Natural Resources Defense Council
Mr. Obegi presented polling results showing that 95% prefer a smaller water tunnel or no tunnel at all.
His organization is advocating a smaller tunnel and using the rest of the money on local storage infrastructure and more recycling and conservation.
His organization finds each of these different kinds of “new” water supplies would mean much less diversion of any annual spring river flow. Flow is more important for the fish right now. According to his organization, the largest “new” water supply is expected to be recycled municipal water supplies. One opportunity — the city of San Francisco takes all the water from the Hetch Hetchy lake and Tuolumne River in Yosemite, uses it once and pumps it as waste to the ocean.
Obegi argues that these new supplies are the cheapest. Even better, investing in local water storage infrastructure creates local jobs and more jobs per dollar than housing construction. Los Angeles has done this. If LA can do it, the rest of the state can too.
Water Power and Law Group
Mr. Roos wanted to create a sense of urgency among the audience. He advocated taking some action – like the BDCP — over continued inaction. He related a short history of long past “warnings” about an inadequate water supply and salmon stress…1961…1971. Now… finally a collapse of flow in 2014.
He stated that 2/3 of the diverters of Delta flow have little responsibility for their water use. San Francisco diverts from Yosemite’s Tuolome River and dumps the flow into the ocean after just one use. Some agricultural users are not paying enough. It is only equitable for all diverters to be made more responsible.
Decades of inertia have created a failure to coordinate among water agencies, resulting in water use inefficiency and habitat destruction. Now with BDCP there is coordination at last — it offers a plan for adaptive management of the flow to respond to the needs of species. “But don’t be persuaded by me or any one of the speakers here today. Ask more questions. If you don’t like the current BDCP, explain a better plan …please submit comments on the plan. But don’t do nothing.” End the inertia!
Restore the Delta.org
Mr. Frost gave a hard-hitting presentation with two key points: 1) The tunnels idea is an antique idea from the 1940s and will fail, costing a fortune than could be better spent on “smart” water systems , 2) Central Valley agribusiness needs to change a lot.
The State Water Project was devised in the 1940s with the expectation that exporting water South for development and agriculture in the semi-arid desert would be a benefit to the state of California. A part of the State Water Project involved damming every river in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, Eel, Klamath, Mad, and Trinity, pumping that water (5 million acre feet annually) over the Siskyou Mountains into the Sacramento River for export. Governor Ronald Reagan declared those rivers wild and scenic in 1968, declaring them off limits to dams in perpetuity. So there is no big flow, and therefore, no need for big water tunnels. Quite the opposite. Without the water from the wild rivers and with drought and climate change, the BCDP’s large tunnels are likely to be empty much of the time. They cannot produce any new supply of water, unlike smart water systems which can.
The Kern and Westlands agricultural areas are naturally a desert. Yet they have massive water allocations, and they need more and more water to keep farming because the land is becoming so salty. Crop choices made there are irrational – almonds trees are being planted, yet that is a crop that needs a reliable water supply each year. They cannot withstand a year of no water.
Frost also agreed with those speakers who said that the levees needed reinforcing and that talk about the impact of earthquakes on water supply was “fear-mongering.”
QUESTION: Funding by the Water Rate Payers? Is that realistic?
MAHER, SCV Water District – Of the $24 billion in costs, two-thirds is to be paid by the state and federal contractors. We’ve done a thourough analysis of those costs and we have all our workshops up on our website. The impact per household is $7-8 per month in the N. County and $3-4 in the S. County. We think that is a pretty good value for restoring the habitat and recovering 56 species in the Delta, and having a reliable water supply for Santa Clara County.
OBEGI, Natural Resources Defense Council – We want to see a plan that works for the environment and the economy. Unfortunately, we don’t think that the state’s plan is going to lead to the recovery or the restoration of salmon and other species. And to put the rate payer impact into perspective, if the the BDCP increases the price of acre foot of water by $200, for the agricultural contractors in the Central Valley Project, they pay $150 on average, some of them pay $7 an acre-foot, some of them pay $30. So you are assuming that they are going to pay their share…that is doubling, tripling quadrupling their water rates. But I think that the history of Bureau of Reclamation is that unfortunately, we all wind up subsidizing a lot of the agricultural interests in central California and elsewhere.
ROOS-COLLINS – Water and Power Law Group – At the risk of being booed, let me make a legal point. There will come a moment when the BDCP is either disapproved or it is approved. The moment it is approved, the entities that are responsible for paying for it have a choice. They will look at the totality of the cost. They will look at the risk, at the cost shifting, they will look at the available public funds. They will have choice – including this water district – as well as every other contractor. If they believe it is not realistic, they will say no. If they believe it is, then they’ll say yes. Then they’ll be bound to perform. Now that is two-thirds of the cost. Now with respect to the other one-third, which is currently allocated to you and me, the taxpayers, there is likely to be a vote on a bond. I believe democracy will answer this question. If we need one-third of the cost to be public and come from a bond, either the votes will be there or they won’t.
FROST – RestoreTheDelta.org. Let us remember that Santa Clara County is 3% of the state and federal [river water] diversion. So if you feel that you want to pay for this program, as currently planned 55% of the diversions go to Kern and Westlands. And I think farming the desert has been proven through the millenia to be a really bad program for long term sustainability. So if you want to subsidize corporate agriculture in the desert, please go ahead and support this [BDCP]. If not, make your voice heard.
DES JARDIN – Sierra Club. Santa Clara [County Water District] can afford this. But the question to me is why aren’t they [BDCP] paying for the habitat restoration. It is an essential part of it. Taxpayers have shown [in polls] that they don’t want to pay for it [BDCP tunnels]. And it is the huge weakness in the whole plan. [Before this BDCP process] we’d just recently gone through a whole CalFED process … there the water agencies refused to pay for the 100,000 acres plus of habitat restoration that had been committed. Now they turned around and started this project – and now they are promising it [restoration] again with your tax money. And it’s not a realistic plan for that reason. AND then there are huge questions about what water supply they are going to get out of it anyway.
SCHMUTTE – Water Resources Engineering Consultant. Most of the damage that has been done to the Delta ecosystems has been done by the reclamation of delta islands for farming. And is it reasonable to ask all of the water users, to pay for the damage that somebody else has created?
Note: Mr. Schmutte also rebutted the claims made by several of the other presenters that seismic activity won’t harm the delta and the levees. He cited several recent studies by seismic geologists in academia, including some research at UCLA.
Après Event Chit Chat – photo journal
Our five Santa Clara Leagues heard from the attendees that they learned a lot at our BDCP Forum. Attendees and readers of this article are urged by the League and the panel members to learn even more by visiting study links throughout this article The panel provided varying opinions. But could it have provided even more variation? Well of course! Mr. Schmutte politely expressed the opinion that “environmentalist” positions were heavily represented. And in retrospect, the League can say that no one was there to make a case for ag-business subsidization.
All in all, the Leagues of Women Voters of Santa Clara Valley are happy they increased awareness and understanding of this important California water supply issue.
The Draft BDCP and BDCP Draft EIR/EIS are being made available to the public in accordance with the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA), Section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA,) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for a 120-day review period.
The the The Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) including public comments can be accessed on this Page.
League Volunteer Recognition:
Pat Showalter – forum idea and speaker development
Rita Norton – speaker development, planning, moderation, and publicity
Cathy Lazarus – publicity, planning and moderation
Sue Graham – event operations and Q&A
Max Beckman-Harned – technical and audio-visual support
Norma Schroder – marketing and publicity
Comments or questions about this story? Contact [email protected]
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