Getting to Know Gerald Meral

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After Craig Wilson finished with the Committee, Senator Pavley next introduced Jerry Meral who was there to discuss the Bay Delta Conservation Plan representing the California Natural Resources Agency. Meral was deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources under Governor Jerry Brown in the early 1980s when the Peripheral Canal was a hot topic in California politics.

Meral described the BDCP process as science-based, a 50-year collaboration intended to meet all environmental laws that apply to it and out of which the Plan is intended to receive permits from many agencies, including the Corps of Engineers, the State Water Resources Control Board, Department of Fish and Game, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service.
He stated that he believes it is "certain to be tested in court." Currently, he stated, there are "serious restrictions" on pumped exports.

The co-equal goals, he said, are intertwined, and seek to relieve pressure on the pumps. He noted further that the projects that are built under BDCP will be intended to last 200 years, adding that some water projects that are operating just fine right now have been around since the late 19th century.

Meral acknowledged that although the 2009 water reform package calls for incorporation of BDCP ito the Delta Plan by 2012, the BDCP will not be ready in time. They intend to share data with the Delta Stewardship Council, however. And there will be new versions of the Delta Plan in years to come.

State Senator Lois Wolk represents the Delta.

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Senator Wolk stated to Meral that "people in the Delta are scouring your every word and nuance."

Meral laughed, perhaps nervously.

How will you involve Delta interests? asked Wolk.

Meral responded that he has already been meeting with Delta county supervisors to get their input on what the most important program elements are. He stated too that planning agreement participation is no longer required for entry into BDCP discussions.

This may provide an opening for new voices to participate in that process.

Senator Wolk asked whether BDCP alternatives would continue to be narrowly construed. 

Meral stated that there would be "no predetermined outcome for alternatives" as long as they were consistent with NCCP (CESA), CEQA, and NEPA, and that he'd been studying that very question over the past weekend.

"We're going to be as immaculate as we can," Meral stated, adding that "every alternative will be considered seriously." Perhaps get the Environmental Water Caucus alternative into the mix over at BDCP?

Senator Wolk also asked after the "west-side Bypass" sponsored by Yolo Foundation as an alternative, and Meral at first thought she was referring to conveyance, but recovered to reiterate that "again, every alternative will get serious consideration."

Wolk turned to the issue of cost, asking whether willingness to pay in this budget climate would be a problem. She expanded on this saying that tunnel options are looking more attractive and likely, but "is southern California willing to pay?"

She added that water retailers in southern California are getting turned off to MWD's commitment to isolated conveyance and unhappy with water rate increase projections. Don't leave the "willingness to pay" issue to the end of the process, Senator Wolk advised Meral.

Meral agreed, it's important and it would not be left to the last minute, he said.

Finally, Senator Wolk asked whether in his new role Meral had a chance to give the 2012 water bond any thought. No, he had not, but will soon.

State Senator Doug La Malfa (left) represents Richvale in the Sacramento Valley rice region

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Courtesy Senator La Malfa's official web site.

Senator La Malfa requested a snapshot of the Delta levee conditions. Meral replied that Delta reclamation districts have done many improvements.

With sea level rise, Meral said, Delta engineers seem confident that levees can be retrofitted to maintain flood control. He added that seismic risk has increased with discovery of a couple of new faults in the area. He nonetheless stated that "the Delta's current configuration will continue for a while," and that the Delta Stewardship Council would be addressing this issue.

Senator La Malfa asked how much is sea level expected to rise?

Fifty-five inches by 2100, replied Meral. He acknowledged that there is some science showing that California's part of North America is still rising after the end of the last ice age, which could offset some of the sea level rise because the land is lighter without an ice cap on it.

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