What Should California Do With Its Delta? Speak Up!

Even if you don’t live in the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta area, if you live in California, eat grapes or cheese from California, or love birds, you have an interest in what happens to the Delta.

Two-thirds of Californians and millions of acres of farmland get their water from the Delta. It is also home to many fish, including the endangered Delta smelt. Waterfowl use it as a stop on their migration route. The water needs of all these users must be balanced for drinking water for human consumption as well as for agricultural use and for protecting fisheries and wildlife.

In recent years, fish numbers have plummeted, wetlands have been lost, invasive plants have gained ground and water quality has become impaired. The Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) was created to achieve the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and restoring the Delta ecosystem. In a step along that path the DSC released its draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Delta Plan earlier this month.

Staking out some common ground
The Delta Plan draft EIR in its current incarnation is fairly general, due to the broad nature of the Delta Plan. It doesn’t contain quantitative details -- for example, the numbers of acres of wetlands to be restored. The DSC still should be commended that it met its deadline with the Draft Plan and is trying to set the groundwork and establish points that can be agreed upon by all stakeholders before moving forward.

Some of the general policies that the DSC recommends are the following: The State Water Board should set standards for the amount of water to flow through the Delta; Delta water sales and contracts must be done openly; no new construction on Delta floodplains (unless the increased risk of flooding is offset); and project must be evaluated for their potential to foster invasive species.

Nothing earth-shattering in those concepts, but the devil will be in the details. Specific physical actions to further the Delta Plan's goals will be taken by other government agencies. Those agencies would complete project-specific environmental documents in the future when those specific actions are designed.

The best plan to meet coequal goals
CEQA required the DSC to consider the environmental impacts of the Delta Plan before adopting it. The environmental review process analyzed the impacts of the DSC's draft Delta Plan as well as five alternatives: a no project alternative, two alternatives with increased emphasis on water reliability, one alternative with increased emphasis on Delta ecosystem restoration and one alternative with increased emphasis on protection and enhancement of Delta communities and culture.

Examining all possible alternatives.
The alternatives examined were based on proposals developed by the Association of California Water Agencies Ag-Urban Caucus, the Environmental Water Caucus, and other agencies and members of the public from around the state. The state water association did not think that the EIR adequately addressed the their industry’s proposal. Environmental groups also had their own proposal which set to reduce the amount of water pumped out of the Delta. After the release of the EIR, the state water industry association and environmental groups issued statements indicating that their respective groups found the EIR to be inadequate. I haven’t read the 2,200 page report, but my first impression is that if diverse groups are equally unhappy, it is probably a decently balanced plan.

Now is the opportunity to add your own voice to the Plan while it is still being drafted
You can add your own voice or comment on the EIR and its alternatives. There are two public meetings in Sacramento before the comment period closes on January 3rd, 2012. Comments are accepted at the meetings or in writing. The EIR is currently scheduled to be certified and the Delta Plan to be adopted in spring 2012.

What Should California Do With Its Delta? Speak Up!
The draft EIR for San Joaquin Delta Plan was recently released, this is your opportunity to comment before January 2012.

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