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The BDCP Steering Committee Models Evasiveness


March 18, 2010 -- Ann Hayden, Senior Water Resource Analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund,  kicked off the BDCP meeting on March 11 with a request to change the BDCP purpose statement to include language ensuring that reduced dependency on the Delta would be expressed as a goal of the planning effort. She noted that reduced dependence on Delta exports was a hard-fought addition (by Assemblyman Huffman) to the recent delta legislative package.
Chair Karen Scarborough, downplaying the importance of the purpose statement and questioning the steering committee's authority to include such a rubric, said that such matters "reside within a legal realm" and sidestepped the request. She said that the Administration had directed the legal team to work in a more coordinated fashion with the EIR/EIS team to ensure compliance with the guiding legislation, before adding that in her opinion, over the last four years all of the options have been thoroughly examined.
This prompted a digression on the timeline for the remainder of 2010. Carl Wilcox of the Department of Fish and Game voiced concerns about the "aggressiveness" of the schedule, saying that there was a considerable workload on the biological staff in his agency and he was unsure if a quality product could be completed in the time allotted. Carl also expressed a desire to integrate and examine the upcoming SWRCB flow recommendation for the needs of the estuary, saying he felt that whatever was to come out of SWRCB flow determinations should be close to, or match up with, BDCP's proposed conveyance operational criteria.
(RTD staff wonders how much real science is actually being done here.  Is this just political calculus to get a sign-off on operational criteria that the BDCP expects to violate anyway?)
The group spent a good half hour rattling off reservoir capacities, snow pack survey results, and possible allocation increases or reductions. Westlands' Jason Peltier began a mantra of "no water" which seemed to follow him throughout the meeting.   Just when Westlands thought things couldn't get any worse, it appears that the state and federal water projects have nearly reached their maximum allotment for sucking up smelt, which could lead to shutting down two more pumps. And then there is the annual "bloodbath" as striped bass gorge on out-migrating salmon smolts; Peltier suggested that anyone interested in accomplishing restoration work should do their part by catching a couple stripers in the Rio Vista Striper derby.  This kind of sarcasm goes well with the brazen misinformation Westlands is handing out.
(Peltier added that 22 of the world's 25 largest stripped bass were caught in the delta.  Not true: Our state record isn't even in the top 25.)
North Delta's Melinda Terry asked for updated information on where state and federal liability ends on levee failure from an earthquake, but Scarborough dodged that question and instead pointed out that the Steering Committee had made substantial progress in the past several months (she actually said "checking-off the boxes") and congratulated herself and all the other steering committee members. As she sees it, very little stands between the current document and the arbitrary Sept 23rd deadline to get the draft EIS/EIR out. Hayden questioned the ludicrous schedule while Roger Patterson (MWD) offered his kudos and pushed for a FIRM date of Sept 23.
The NOAA representative noted that as a co-lead on the EIS, his agency would have to sign off on the draft as well, but that doesn't seem to be a rule that Scarborough considers binding.  Peltier resumed his plaint of  "no water" and took the opportunity to remind everyone how much shutting down two of the five operating pumps in Tracy "hurt" considering the current 5% allocation.
There was a discussion regarding habitat for terrestrial species and the acreage numbers associated with their preservation, conservation, or restoration. Everyone in the room asked for more justification for the acreage targets. Peltier and the representative from the San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority questioned the need for all the restoration work and the creation of "new" habitat types. Promises were made on the justification, but not much was said regarding the "new" habitat types.   (RTD suspects that the steering committee doesn't want to advertise the reasoning behind the need for the new types of habitat: The presence of salt in the estuary will result in the development of new types of habitat and possibly expansion of existing species/ranges and/or new species.)
Scarborough explained that everyone in the room seems to understand and agree on the appropriateness of the target ranges when the matter is discussed orally.  "The difficulty comes when you try and put it on paper."  (RTD's interpretation of that:  The target stops moving, making it a bit more difficult to say whatever it is the reader wants to read.)
There was a brief discussion of expanding the project area in order to include any mitigation measures that may be done near but not inside of the project area. Agency staff seemed vehemently opposed to that.
Following a Powerpoint presentation on project alternatives, Peltier joked that with all the difficulty, uncertainty, and costs, perhaps a "no project" alternative was most prudent. Osha Meserve, representing Reclamation District 999, took the opportunity to agree with Peltier, bringing the meeting back around to where it started.  She said that it would be in the spirit of the current legislation to also reduce reliance on delta exports. Greg Zlotnick (Santa Clara Valley Water District) added that the legislative intent of the language was to reduce reliance for current needs.
Serious once again, Peltier said that reduced exports doesn't work for Westlands and blamed the majority of the water and system impacts on upstream diverters.