The following is part two of a two-part series, continuing the conversation of the Delta’s complex crisis. You can read Thursday’s Part one here.
A group of Delta farming groups filed a lawsuit two weeks ago to stop the peripheral canal by challenging the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a far-reaching effort that is under way to develop a habitat conservation plan and to seek permits for a new peripheral canal.
The suit by the South Delta Water Agency and the Central Delta Water Agency alleges that the plan violates planning laws because the environmental review process is under way even before the project has been designed.
“Our ultimate goal is to make sure the facts come out so that a peripheral canal will not go forward,” said John Herrick, an attorney representing the South Delta Water Agency. “If the facts come out, that canal will not be built. That is a difficult thing because most of the state is being told that this is a wonderful thing and it’s a done deal. We want to make sure that the environmental review processes are done properly.”
The BDCP is a joint effort by state and federal agencies, local water agencies and environmental groups to “to provide for the conservation of threatened and endangered fish species in the Delta and improve the reliability of the water supply system within a stable regulatory framework.”
A steering committee of 27 different agencies and groups held a series of public meetings throughout the state in March to receive input on environmental studies that are already under way.
Herrick said Delta farmers would be put out of business if a peripheral canal were built that takes more fresh water out of the Delta. “If you have a peripheral canal that removes water from the Delta, our area will become a stagnant set of channels and agriculture will go out of business,” he said. “That is not an opinion, that is simple physics.”
“Basically, California has two options in the time horizon we are thinking about for infrastructure improvements,” said Hanak. “One is to build a peripheral canal and the other is to basically wean ourselves off Delta exports. Either way you want to have time to plan a transition into those solutions. Otherwise, the Delta islands will fail and we’ll be weaned overnight off of exports.”
Wolk agrees that the planning process takes time, but she envisions a different ordering of priorities, with her Delta Stewardship Council taking a lead role. “The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is one of the many plans that has to be incorporated with the overall plan by the Stewardship Council, which is broader than the BDCP … the (BDCP) is very focused on getting water out of the Delta (via a peripheral canal).”
A combination of three years of drought, cuts in water deliveries and collapsing fisheries have raised the profile of the Delta crisis for many Californians.
The Delta’s problems are “very high on the radar, in spite of all the other problems California faces,” said Hanak.
The political schisms that have existed for decades over the Delta and the peripheral canal present a significant challenge to solving the current crisis.
“Right now, folks are all in their corners on this in terms of what they see as necessary to happen,” said Hanak. “People are going to have to move out of those corners.”