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With all the talk this week of the state finally (actually) getting a solid water game plan with the introduction of a revised Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), it was only in the fine print that the words “rigorous public environmental review” pulled the defeatist alarm about anything finally (actually) getting done.

For decades, governors, agencies, task forces and other regional water resource and management entities have continuously dickered over what to do with the San Francisco Bay Delta, that 1,100-sq-mi confluence of waterways and levees that provides fresh water (from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers) for 25 million Californians and hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. Nobody could compromise, not the government groups, farmers nor environmentalists. (Remember the Peripheral Canal proposal?)

But maybe this time it could be different.

What they could agree on was there’s no debating that the delta is going through a challenging existence and is just an earthquake away from crumbling. Native fish species are also endangered. Something has to be done, or at least started. (Remember the recent less-than-popular high-speed rail go-ahead?).

So when Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Eric Schwaab last week outlined revisions to the proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) that paves a path forward for an enhanced BDCP process, albeit with possible revisions down the line, at least a plan (at $14 billion so far) was moving. 

The officials emphasized that population growth, habitat loss and ongoing threats to levee stability and water supply have “crippled the California Bay Delta, threatening the health and economies of California communities.”

“The revised approach, which is grounded in science, is designed to help restore fish populations, protect water quality, and improve the reliability of water supplies for all water users who receive deliveries from state and federal projects,” according to the governor’s office. “It improves on key aspects of previous proposals and offers a strong governance model, financing options, a scientific review process and a steadfast conservation foundation for a new water conveyance facility to move water and help restore the health of the ecosystem.”

According to the governor’s statement, the elements of a preferred proposal include the construction of water intake facilities with a total capacity of 9,000 cubic ft per second – down from an earlier proposal of 15,000 cfs – operations of which would be phased in over several years and a conveyance (two tunnels) designed to use gravity flow to maximize energy efficiency and to minimize environmental impact. Many other alternatives, including no conveyance facility, and facilities with capacities ranging from 3,000 to 15,000 cfs, will also be fully considered as part of the upcoming environmental review process.

The parties expect to issue a draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan and corresponding Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement for public review this fall.

Another positive for proceeding with the new water plan are jobs.

“The governor’s proposal will not only confer once it is complete immense long-term economic and environmental benefits on California, in addition during its design and construction phase this major project will create thousands of quality jobs during a difficult economic time,” said Paul Meyer, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies, California, in a statement.

“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 help make the governor’s vision a reality,” Meyer said.