In March, California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird claimed that the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDC) to build two giant peripheral tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is driven by “science.”
“At the beginning of the Brown administration, we made a long-term commitment to let science drive the Bay Delta Conservation Plan,” said Laird, who presided over record fish kills and water exports at the South Delta pumping facilities in 2011 and the completion of the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create questionable “marine protected areas.”
“Science has and will continue to drive a holistic resolution securing our water supply and substantially restoring the Delta’s lost habitat,” Laird gushed.
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However, on July 18, scientists from federal lead agencies for the BDCP EIR/EIS – the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service – exposed the hollowness of Laird’s claims that the BDCP is based on “science.”
They provided the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the environmental consultants with 44 pages of comments highly critical of the Consultant Second Administrative Draft EIR/EIS Draft, released on May 10. The agencies found, among other things, that the draft environmental documents were “biased,” “insufficient,” “confusing,” and “very subjective.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service said the environmental draft is “currently insufficient” and “will need to be revised.” The agency also criticized some sections of the document for arriving at “seemingly illogical conclusions.”
The Bureau of Reclamation criticized the language and content of the draft for “advocating for the project.” They also said the “identification of adverse and beneficial impacts is very subjective and appears to be based on a misreading of NEPA regulations.”
In addition, “The document is vague about the relationship between the various agency actions that compose or relate to the BDCP, including how these actions will be sequenced and the time/manner of environmental analysis for each,” Reclamation stated.
After their staff reviewed the documents, six Members of Congress from Northern California, including Representatives Doris Matsui, George Miller, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi and Jared Huffman, called on the Brown Administration to withdraw and fully revise the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the tunnels in light of the draft documents being found “biased” and “insufficient” by federal scientists.
“The federal agency comments on the BDCP’s draft environmental documents continue to show not only that the project doesn’t solve the water problems that face our state, but that the BDCP as written is truly flawed,” stated Rep. Doris Matsui (CA-6). “Until we have a process that includes all stakeholders and is based on sound science, we are wasting precious time and taxpayer money. This is time and money that we do not have. In the meantime, the environment of the Delta continues to decline and our state’s water problems continue to grow. We must get on track with a process that will produce a viable solution for California’s future.”
Rep. George Miller (CA-11) said, “The Governor’s administration told us time and again that their process would be governed by unbiased, sound science. But these federal reports confirm the opposite. As we suspected, this process has been rushed, biased, and excludes viable alternatives at the behest of big irrigators and agencies that stand to gain huge profits from their increased access to northern water. To proceed any further without major revisions that take into account the concerns of all stakeholders, not just those with political and financial influence, would be shortsighted, unproductive, and ultimately a failure.”
“These reports confirm what we’ve been saying all along – this proposed BDCP is not a workable solution to California’s water challenges,” said Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) “It’s rushed, flawed, hurts wildlife and puts the interests of South-of-Delta water contractors ahead of North-of-Delta farmers, fishers and small business owners. Until we have a plan that is transparent, based on sound science and developed with all stake-holders at the table, then any process that moves us closer to building these tunnels will recklessly risk billions of California tax dollars and thousands of jobs.”
“We have said from day one that any proposal related to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta must be based on sound science and an accurate cost-benefit analysis,” said Jerry McNerney (CA-09). “The recently-released reports clearly show that Governor Brown’s misguided plan for the Delta is based on neither. To continue to move forward without taking into consideration the concerns of all stakeholders, the countless jobs that could be lost, and the billions of taxpayer dollars at stake is a clear disservice to the people of California. I will continue to fight against any plan that would divert more water from the Delta, and to stand up for the families, farmers and small business owners who rely upon a healthy Delta for their livelihoods.”
“The peripheral tunnel plan is incredibly destructive, and because it does not add one drop to our water supply, incredibly unproductive,” said Rep. John Garamendi (CA-3). “The current plan concludes that massive water diversions south of the Delta are needed and then twists arguments to meet that conclusion. Instead, we need a scientific process, freed from the blinders of bias, to meet the legally mandated co-equal goals of ecological conservation and reliability of water supply – both of which are essential to the state’s economy. As an alternative to the current BDCP, I have proposed a framework that would expand our water supply and protect the Delta through greater water conservation, recycling, and storage, levee improvements, and the protection of existing water rights. We need a water system that meets the needs of all Californians.”
“These reports are just the latest in a series of wake up calls showing that the BDCP is headed in a dangerous direction,” commented Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-02). “We need a plan for the Bay-Delta that is based on science and follows the law, and it looks to me—and clearly, to many others—like the BDCP continues to fall short.”
Delta residents, fishermen, Indian Tribes, family farmers and a growing number of elected officials oppose the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels because the $54.1 billion project will hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. The project would also, under the guise of “habitat restoration,” take large areas of Delta farmland, some of the most fertile on the planet, out of production in order to deliver massive amounts of water to irrigate toxic, drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The peripheral tunnels also threaten salmon and steelhead restoration on the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary. The Trinity, whose water is diverted to the Sacramento River via a tunnel to Whiskeytown Reservoir, is the only out of basin water supply for the federal Central Valley Project.