Delta project’s pros and cons

Plan to save Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta discussed locally

Speakers at the BDCP water forum (left to right): Jerry Meral, Ara Azhderian, Jonas Milton and Rep. John Garamendi.

Speakers at the BDCP water forum (left to right): Jerry Meral, Ara Azhderian, Jonas Milton and Rep. John Garamendi.

Photo By tom gascoyne

A water forum held Aug. 21 at the Chico Masonic Family Center featured four speakers with widely opposing views on the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). Also known as Gov. Jerry Brown’s multibillion-dollar water-tunnel system, the project calls for the installation of two tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter and 35 miles long, to be built beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Sponsored by the Butte County Department of Water and Resource Conservation and the Glenn County Water Advisory Committee, the forum attracted close to 200 people to the midweek, midday meeting.

The speakers were Jerry Meral, who was appointed by Brown as the deputy secretary to the California Natural Resources Agency and serves as a spokesman for the $25 billion project—a plan whose two-pronged approach calls for restoring the Delta’s ecosystem while increasing the water flow north to south.

He was followed Rep. John Garamendi, whose 3rd Congressional District includes 200 miles of the Sacramento River, from Benicia to Hamilton City. The river is a centerpiece in the BDCP, which Garamendi is very much against. Next came Aza Azhderian, a water-policy administrator for the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which will benefit greatly from the tunnel plan. The final speaker was Jonas Minton, water-policy advisor for Planning and Conservation League, a state lobbying organization.

The speakers were introduced by Paul Gosselin, Butte County’s Water and Resource Conservation director, who in his opening remarks made it clear that he questions the plan.

“Butte County and the entire northern Sacramento Valley region is part of the Delta watershed, and the area of origin for much of that water that flows through the Delta,” he said. “We are interconnected, but we can’t accept well-intentioned efforts that will cause devastating consequences to our region, like the current concept of the BDCP.”

Meral, whose task is to promote the project, said the Delta was originally a huge tidal marsh and “wildlife paradise with grizzly bears and huge flocks of birds.” That changed after Europeans moved in and began converting the area to farmland, he said.

“It still has tremendous ecological value, despite the fact that a lot of the land has been converted to farmland,” Meral said.

The Delta supports 57 different species of wildlife, he said, including some that are either listed or threatened to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The crop value coming out of the Delta is over $700 million a year,” he said. “We believe that needs to be preserved—and enhanced, if possible.”

Existing water rights for those in the North State will not be affected, Meral assured. “We’ve gone out of our way to design this project in a way that will not impact upstream water rights, groundwater, or reservoir operations.”

However, Garamendi questioned the project’s overall need, and warned it could be environmentally devastating. The tunnels, he said, have the capacity to transfer 15,000 cubic feet of water per second from the Sacramento River, though the plan as is limits that to 9,000 cubic feet per second.

“The [flow of the] Sacramento River, on average, is somewhere between 12,000 and 19,000 cubic feet per second,” Garamendi said. “This project has the capacity to suck the Delta dry.”

He called it “the most destructive environmental project ever conceived on the West Coast and perhaps in this entire nation.”

Azhderian—whose water district includes the San Joaquin Valley, which is set to receive much of the transported water—defended the project, and said it was needed to protect the farmlands and wildlife in that region.

Minton, the adviser for the Planning and Conservation League, came out against the project.

“When this started about seven years ago, it was projected to cost $3 billion and provide one million acre-feet more water,” he said. “Now it’s costing $25 billion, with no guarantee or assurance that there will be any more water.”