Ann Hayden is a Senior Water Resource Analyst at EDF.
Yesterday, the Department of Water Resources announced the official launch of the environmental impact report (EIR) for evaluating different ways to deliver water in and around the Delta.
The timing of the launch raises some questions. It threatens to take important public policy decisions, notably whether to build a peripheral canal around the Delta, out of the public arena and behind closed doors.
The EIR is supposed to be closely linked to the yet-to-be-completed Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, a broadly but not universally supported process to determine how endangered species and the water projects can coexist. So what happens if the BDCP is not completed before the EIR proceeds?
Some suspect there may be an interest in completing the EIR as soon as possible (perhaps before the Governor leaves office) regardless of the findings of the BDCP. This of course would be a big mistake. We think Delta conveyance options should be evaluated in a public and transparent forum such as the BDCP and not behind the curtain at DWR.
The Bay-Delta Conservation Plan is a government-run process one that includes a diverse set of stakeholders (link text). Water contractors who need coverage under the Endangered Species Act for “taking” (i.e. killing) species must design a plan to offset the harmful impacts of proposed projects, such as the construction and operation of a peripheral canal. Under Federal law, these plans are called Habitat Conservation Plans; under the more protective State law they are called Natural Communities Conservation Plans. The BDCP is intended to accommodate both State and Federal law.
The BDCP stakeholders include the largest urban and agricultural contractors that export water from the Delta, the State and Federal agencies that operate the water projects as well as those that protect fish and wildlife, and an assortment of public interest groups, including us, the Environmental Defense Fund.
We are all working together to develop a long-term plan that would both recover endangered and threatened fish that reside in the Delta species and make water supply more reliable for our cities and farms. The BDCP has been underway a year and a half and the in-depth evaluation of conveyance options has just begun. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2009.
By most accounts the aggressive schedule outlined for the BDCP is highly unrealistic given that much less-complicated HCPs (without the more protective NCCP element) have taken many years to complete. If it is necessary to extend this schedule, will the EIR schedule also be extended? We hope so.
While the process to develop the BDCP is far from perfect, it has provided the opportunity for stakeholders to work through contentious issues, to slowly build trust and to think creatively about meeting conservation and water reliability goals. It is critical that the environmental review of conveyance options allow the time necessary for stakeholders in the BDCP to work together on developing a credible and robust conservation plan.