The Obama administration and California state officials have unveiled a new “preferred alternative” for conveying water from northern California to the central part of the state while protecting the fragile California Bay Delta ecosystem.
Officials said that, by highlighting a preferred “blueprint,” they could help end the long and bitter “water wars” that have divided the state between agricultural interests, the fishing industry and environmentalists, among others.
But state water agencies and groups, as well as other stakeholders, are concerned about how the $14-billion project will be funded. “The biggest hurdle right now is funding,” says Cindy Paulson, executive director of California Urban Water Agencies and a senior vice president of Walnut Creek, Calif. –based Brown and Caldwell.
The $14-billion proposal, announced on July 25, makes changes to earlier versions of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. It involves constructing three large water-intake facilities with a total capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second (cf/s), down from an earlier proposal of five intake facilities with 15,000 cf/s capacity.
In a press briefing in Sacramento, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, “As broken and outdated as California’s water system is, we are also closer than ever to forging a lasting and sustainable solution that strengthens California’s water security and restores the health of the delta.” Salazar and California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) made a commitment earlier in the year to work together to come up with an achievable proposal, he said. “With California’s water system at constant risk of failure, nobody can afford the dangers or costs of inaction,” Salazar noted.
Salazar said the proposal is only a draft, and that other alternatives—including one that calls for no conveyance system—will be “fully considered.”
But having identified the key elements of the plan, state and federal officials hope to be able to issue a more fleshed-out Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and corresponding environmental impact report and environmental impact statement for public review by this fall.
Several U.S. lawmakers from northern California blasted the proposal, saying it was rushing the process without enough input from all parties. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), said, “A BDCP framework that includes the stakeholders from all of California must be established in order to solve our state’s water situation. We have a real opportunity to get this right. Unfortunately, the current plan falls significantly short. We can do better.”
Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, said, “Our proposed changes to the BDCP reflect important improvements in shaping a comprehensive strategy to fix a broken system.” Because the issues are complex, she said officials would continue to evaluate and refine the proposal. “We call upon the many participants throughout California to join us in staying focused on science-based solutions.”
Paul Meyer, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies’ California chapter, commended California Governor Brown (D) and Salazar for working out a deal. He adds, “This is exactly the kind of large-scale engineering challenge in which California engineering, surveying and environmental consulting firms excel, and our members look forward to the opportunity to make … the vision a reality.”
But how the program will get paid for is still an unanswered question, Paulson says. Details on funding have thus far been scant, she says.