The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is just one piece in the Brown administration’s overall water portfolio — but it is a vitally important piece.
The value of the State Water Project to the people of California is extraordinary. Twenty-five million people and 3 million acres of farmland rely on Delta-conveyed water. The regions of California that receive water from the Delta produce hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods and services each year. Water from the Delta supports the state’s $42.6 billion agricultural industry, which produces much of the nation’s domestically grown produce.
Modernizing this water “transport” system while restoring and protecting the Delta ecosystem is a very high priority.
And so is the Delta economy, which relies heavily on agriculture. The BDCP would protect approximately 50,000 acres of cultivated lands, ensuring that agricultural uses on those lands would continue in perpetuity. Operators of the federal and state water projects would have to continue to meet the state-enforced water quality standards that protect farming and drinking water in the Delta.
Additionally, the BDCP addresses the need for financial assistance to help Delta farmers maintain or improve agricultural productivity through a range of stewardship strategies that have been developed with feedback from the Delta agricultural community.
In order to minimize the effects on local governments in the region, the BDCP has committed to offset the loss of local property tax and assessment revenue. The BDCP would create approximately 155,000 construction jobs and increase economic activity in local communities where those jobs are located. That would be in addition to jobs created through habitat restoration. The BDCP also would protect nearly a million jobs through water supply reliability statewide.
There has been considerable misinformation promulgated about the BDCP, which has confused the public. One important point is that the plan is designed to change and improve how existing water moves through the Delta. The amount of water moved through the State Water Project would not increase. In fact, water diversions under the BDCP would fall within 10 percent of the historic 20-year average.
While the BDCP is not intended to create more storage (other state initiatives are addressing storage), it is absolutely intended to capture water when it is available.
During the last wet month on record, December 2012, pumping was severely restricted because of the presence of Delta smelt near the pumps. About 800,000 acre-feet of water was lost because the point of diversion at the existing south Delta pumps posed an environmental threat that could not be avoided. If the BDCP were in place at the time, a different point of diversion in the north Delta could have captured that water.
Even water captured by newly created storage would need a reliable mode of conveyance, and the status quo in the Delta does not provide that reliability.
Failing to move forward with the BDCP, as one piece of the comprehensive water portfolio, would be costly to both the state’s economy and the Delta environment. It is time for a commonsense and badly needed upgrade to the state’s primary water infrastructure system.
The BDCP is viable, prudent and founded on cutting-edge scientific inquiry. It is the best hope we have to resolving the Delta’s long-standing, undisputed water conveyance and ecosystem problems. The status quo is clearly not an option. The BDCP is the solution we need today.
To get the facts on the BDCP, visit: http://baydeltaconservationplan.com.
• Mark Cowin is the director of the California Department of Water Resources.