A report card issued last week by former members of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force gave the State a grade of “incomplete” on it progress to restore the ailing waterway and guarantee a reliable water supply for more than 25 million Californians.
The Task Force was appointed two years ago by Governor Schwarzenegger to come up with a plan to restore the Delta, which is suffering from growing pressures on the supply system, failing fisheries and hundreds of miles of earthen levees that need rebuilding. The Task Force issued its report in October of 2008, and now a group of its members are continuing their work as the Delta Vision Foundation.
In its report card issued last week, the group charged that the “Governor has not responded to the recommendations of the Delta Vision Strategic Plan or the Cabinet Committee’s actions.” While the report card acknowledges that the Governor has advocated water conservation and supports the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to improve the water conveyance systems, he has not addressed the Delta’s ecosystem problems.
“The urgency of our water supply problems and the crisis of the Delta ecosystem dictate a more aggressive, cohesive and integrated approach by the Governor and the Legislature,” said Phil Isenberg, former chair of the Delta Vision Task Force and a founder of the Delta Vision Foundation.
A state spokesman said the report card is premature. “It’s a little premature to give an incomplete,” said Sandy Cooney, Deputy Secretary for Communications for the California Natural Resources Agency. “How can professor give an incomplete when the semester is not finished? There is a lot of work going on between the executive and the legislative branches to figure out how we get a comprehensive plan to fix the Delta.”
Seven goals were listed in the Delta Vision Strategic Plan, the first being to “Make the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration the legal foundation of Delta and water policy making.”
Isenberg, who served in the State Assembly for 14 years, said the Governor must set the tone for these actions to move forward. “The Governor, we assume, supports those co-equal goals,” he said. “But you have to say it in order for the bureaucracy to believe it.”
The foundation’s report card cites 16 different water bills in the Legislature, but claims none of the bills would achieve the recommendations of the Delta Vision plan. The bills address a variety of issues including governance, funding and conservation. Isenberg said many of the bills are conflict with one another and fail to address the Delta’s failing ecosystem.
“We need two things,” said Isenberg. “We need a position from the Governor. And the Legislature needs to step in and try to make a series of bills that are coherent, consistent with each other an address the fundamental issue of governance. In the absence of an administrative position, there are a lot of questions that cannot be answered, particularly on governance.”
Cooney said the Governor “didn’t come out with a statement per se” on the Task Force recommendations, “but the Governor makes a statement every day with his actions. He has bent over backwards to facilitate action on the Delta. He appointed the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force. He has been the driving force behind these efforts.”
He believes that the 16 bills in the Legislature address the critical issues. “All of the action in the Legislature, all of this activity, is going to lead to a comprehensive plan,” said Cooney “It’s ironic that the report itself says a lot more about what we are doing together than it does about passing judgment or issuing a grade.”
In regard to restoring the Delta’s ecosystem, he said the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is set up to address the needs of the habitat and sensitive species, in addition to resolving water conveyance issues. “The hope is that the combination of the water bonds, the BDCP and a governance system are going to facilitate what the Governor has been talking about since day one: A comprehensive solution to the Delta’s problems.”
Members of the Delta Vision Foundation are pushing for just that kind of action. William K. Reilly, a member of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, and former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said “Time is running out, both on prospects for a sustainable Delta ecosystem and on legislative opportunities to act to protect it in this session. I very much hope that the Governor, who signaled his priority by establishing and appointing the Delta Vision Task Force, gets the chance to act on its recommendations as part of his legacy.”
Cooney said finding a comprehensive plan to solve the Delta’s problems is “something we all agree on. It’s just a matter of working together to take that incomplete grade and make it an A-plus.”