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Cam Noltemeyer: Plumbing before policy in Delta decision

Posted: July 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 25, 2012 8:05 p.m.
 

A recent City Council vote approved our city’s support for the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

To some reading the council agenda, this may have seemed innocuous enough. The action was promoted as a funding mechanism to fix the levees in the Sacramento Delta area to protect our water supply and help reduce chlorides in our water supply.

Castaic Lake Water Agency, the promoters of this action, failed to provide the council with a true picture of the purpose of this plan or its costs. This is partly not CLWA’s fault, since no analysis of the full costs versus benefits of the project or even any decision about who will pay these costs, have been completed. Also, the specifics of the plan itself are still being debated.

While the plan might help the chloride issue 50 years from now, it doesn’t solve the current problem.

Members of the public brought up this lack of information, along with the projected cost increases for local water users in the Santa Clarita Valley, to the Council, but to no avail. The Council was not worried about any increased costs to local residents. They were not concerned that cost estimates for the completion of the facilities in the plan range from a low of $15 billion to a high of $50 billion at a time when the state budget remains in a deficit.

And they were not interested in the public comment that the BDCP is not about fixing levees. Funding for those levee repairs was already approved several decades ago in Proposition E.  

The BDCP is about changing the plumbing of the state water project. It includes moving the pumps further away from the ocean and building what was formerly called in the 1980s a “peripheral canal.”

The name has changed to “cross-Delta conveyance,” to avoid the negative connotations of the previous controversial and highly contested fight to spend the state’s public money to bring more water to Southern California. That plan was voted down three decades ago but the same controversy remains today.

Parts of the plan make sense. Moving the pumps may improve water quality by reducing seawater intrusion and protect against the sea level rise predicted to result from global warming.

It may help address the problem of pumping so intense that it reverses the river flow in one area, causing migrating fish to go the wrong way and become emeshed in the massive pumps.

So what’s the problem? Southern California water agencies want more water from the Delta and the Delta and its fisheries can’t give more. The Delta farmers don’t want to send more of the precious stuff south either. The Delta is over-subscribed already and just doesn’t have more water to give. It’s as simple as that.

The water agencies want a tunnel or two, or a canal; whatever will increase their ability to move more water south for developments such as 21,000-unit Newhall Ranch and the 10,000 other units approved but not yet built in the SCV. They want enough water for to double SCV’s population in the adopted General Plan update.

And they want you and me to pay for it. Or they want the state taxpayers as a whole to take it in the form of bond funding.

But obviously the bond funding was not going to fly in the current economic downturn. The legislature voted yet again to remove the water bond proposal from the ballot just a few weeks ago.

The Bay Delta Plan does not seem to encompass the policies set forth by the Delta Stewardship Council, who was charged to develop them, it has no funding yet and several of its components remain controversial, but Wednesday Gov. Jerry Brown held a press conference to support it.

Numerous groups including California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance, Restore the Delta, the Environmental Water Caucus, Sierra Club, Planning and Conservation League and other fishing, farming and conservation groups planned to gather at noon at the State Capitol in Sacramento after the governor’s announcement to voice their opposition.

They, along with many others in the public, don’t want plumbing before policy. Many taxpayers also think this is not the time to start on yet another expensive and massive infrastructure project without a cost-benefit analysis or a means of footing the bill. We want to know where the money is coming from before it is spent.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Valencia resident and a Whittaker Bermite Citizens Advisory Group board member.

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