It should tell you something when Nancy Vogel, the assistant director of public affairs of the DWR, charged with maintaining a good public image for the project, makes as much as Gerry Meral, the assistant director of the Natural Resource Agency, who was until recently in charge of the project. (According to the 2013 state worker salary database, both made $108,000 per year.) The DWR routinely fails to answer questions from the public. I exchanged several emails with a staff environmental scientist from the DWR, asking for a few examples where a huge diversion, like the one proposed in the BDCP, actually benefited the source waterway. The last email I received was that she was on vacation and would respond when she returned. I never heard another thing.
The heart of the BDCP is not conservation but a scheme to divert the Sacramento River around the Delta, which could effectively drain the watershed and cause further salt intrusion into the area. Removing an additional 800,000 acre-feet of water, as Cowin proposes, will create even more problems by killing more fish and destroying agriculture. When you add the impact of 24-hours-a-day construction going on for possibly 10 years and 155,000 construction workers commuting daily to the Delta during that time period, it will create more of a disaster, with the construction workers competing with agricultural trucks and equipment, residents and visitors for space on narrow roads, many atop levees with no guard rails.
Cowin mentions the much-maligned Delta smelt. It is not only the smelt that are suffering. It is all fish in the Delta — salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, etc. — because of excessive water exports.
You hear DWR officials warning of the earthquake risk in the Delta, and many times they mention the Hayward Fault as a particular problem. The Hayward Fault runs through the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, including the cities of Berkeley, Oakland and Fremont. When it has a major seismic event, the Delta will be a minor concern compared to the damage that will take place in these heavily populated cities. Just for the record, there has never been an instance of a Delta levee failing because of an earthquake.
Fortunately, there is a broad coalition of California citizens who are working to defeat the BDCP, and I am confident that as more people realize what a gigantic boondoggle it is, it will be abandoned. The downside is that a lot of hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars will be squandered first.
• Bill Wells is executive director of the California Delta Chambers & Visitors Bureau.