Bay-Delta Conservation Plan: A License to Kill?

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Photo by Tim Stroshane

C-WIN's Twin Tunnels Campaign


Bay Delta Conservation Plan: A License to Kill?

(Why C-WIN didn’t sign the BDCP Planning Agreement)

After the CalFED program collapsed, support for the creation of a Bay Delta Conservation Plan gained momentum among state policy makers and water contractors. The purpose of the initiative was the reconciliation of two competing goals for the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta:

  • Protecting listed aquatic species of the Bay-Delta estuary
  • Increasing water supplies diverted from the Delta by the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, ideally through a new "conveyance" facility.

Unlike stakeholders involved in most public planning efforts, participants in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process had to sign a "planning agreement" to secure access to the high-level meetings and discussions that ensured among the water industry's power brokers, attorneys, and consultants.

By signing the planning agreement, stakeholders essentially concurred that some kind of conveyance system had to be considered among the water supply management options that would be covered by a planned habitat conservation program.. The California Water Impact Network opted not to join the process because we do not believe a conveyance facility is needed to solve California's water problems.

In theory, the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan will serve as a "habitat conservation plan" for the Delta estuary, meeting the requirements of the state and federal Endangered Species Acts and California's Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act. The  goal is the protection of listed species (such as the Delta smelt) and the construction of a "dual conveyance" scheme, or twin tunnels, to move fresh water from the Sacramento River directly to the south Delta export pumps for delivery to state and federal water contractors.

By law, however, a habitat conservation plan is simply a plan of action and regulation intended to prevent extinction of a species while allowing some development in its critical habitat; it is not a plan for recovery and restoration of species abundance. Habitat conservation plans provide developers (including water project operators) with a kind of "license to kill," under which state and federal fishery agencies may issue permits for the "taking" of individuals of an endangered species up to levels specified in the plan.

Although the BDCP planning agreement claims the conservation plan will protect listed species and restore their habitat, the agreement does not address population recoveries recovery of these species

BDCP's "Covered Activities" consists of the suite of actions that the "potential regulated entities" ( e.g.,the California Department of Water Resources and the US Bureau of Reclamation), would like to undertake.

First on the list (in Section 7.5)  is "conveyance elements" of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project: specifically, the various ways to move Sacramento River water around or under the the Delta. Promoters of the BDCP have settled on subterranean twin tunnels as their preferred model. This clause of the plan includes a nod to the now-defunded Environmental Water Account, a failed program to obtain water  for contractors who have given up water for endangered fish. …

 The ecological goal under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is to provide enough habitat restoration and protective measures so that routine state and federal water project operations will not cause the extinction of the Delta’s endangered fish species. But it is questionable whether any number of “takes” can be justified under a legitimate conservation plan.

The water supply goal under the plan is to allow the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources to export enough water from a conveyance scheme to meet the full contractual demands of agricultural and urban water contractors in the San Joaquin Valley and southern California.  However, as noted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010,


“…Combined, the SWP and CVP full contract amounts for Delta exports are around 7,432,883 AF. As noted above, historical exports by the CVP and SWP almost never exceed 6 MAF, so it appears that the "full contract amount" of exports is at least I million acre feet more than has ever been exported historically.” ( )

  Implicit in this observation is the fact that the Delta needs more water, not less.

In 2009, C-WIN wrote a letter to Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes explaining our position on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.



BDCP Conveyance Concepts

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