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Delta water plan released, faces tall task of compromise

11:24 PM, Dec 9, 2013   |    comments
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Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Seven years and tens of thousands of pages in the making, state officials have submitted their full proposal for a Delta water system that seeks compromise on what may be California's most long-running and heated battle.

"It's a complicated picture," said Paul Helliker, deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources.

Monday's formal release of the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its environmental impact report starts the clock ticking on what is likely to be an intense four month process to solicit public input and, officials hope, the first set of federal project approvals by the end of 2014.

"This is probably the most complicated environmental document in California," said Helliker.  "Maybe in the country."

While the BDCP sets out a broad set of goals for the protection and restoration of the Delta ecosystem, its most combative proposal calls for the construction of twin underground tunnels, starting at a point on the Sacramento River near the community of Courtland and stretching for some 35 miles toward existing water pumps near Tracy.

The entire project, with an estimated price tag of almost $25 billion, calls for completion of the tunnels and agreement on Delta environmental protection rules by 2022.

The tunnels themselves are far from a settled issue on all sides. The draft BDCP includes 14 separate scenarios for moving water from northern California to Central Valley farms and southern California communities.  All but four include some version of the Delta tunnels.

State officials say the document assumes a variation in water deliveries to the south of about 900,000 acre feet a year -- equivalent to more than 293 billion gallons.  The goal of the draft report, say state officials, is to settle on a system by which Delta environmental measures will guide how much water can be transported through the region.

"It has to benefit the people that are paying for it [water users] as well as benefit the species," said DWR's Helliker.

But the plan's critics say it is unacceptably weak on Delta ecosystem protection, and that it's more focused on water transport than on the needs of the environment.

"We're being asked to sacrifice the greatest estuary on the west coast of the Americas," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of the group Restore the Delta.

Delta opponents gathered Monday in Sacramento to denounce the process that created the BDCP final draft, and they hinted that a fight in the courts is the most likely outcome by the end of 2014.

"Our region, and our communities, should not be pitted against other parts of the state," said Stockton city councilmember Kathy Miller.  "And we should not be sacrificed for this wasteful plan, which will not solve our state's water problems."

State officials have scheduled a dozen public meetings to review the Delta plan between mid-January and mid-February.  $16 billion of the projected $25 billion cost would be paid by water users in California; other costs would be paid by the federal government and a state bond measure.


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