The Delta, which provides drinking water for more than 22 million Californians and supports a $28 billion agricultural industry along with a recreational and fishing industry, “is in crisis,” according to the Sept. 30 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by six federal agencies.
“Decades of environmental degradation have led to severe declines in Delta fisheries and have contributed to the collapse of the State of California’s salmon fishing industry. Both the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the economy dependent on its water and fish are on the precipice of collapse. It is imperative that the federal government reestablish a leadership role in Bay-Delta matters.”
The agencies agreed to form a Federal Bay-Delta Leadership Committee headed by the Department of the Interior and consisting of the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, Department of the Army, Department of Agriculture and Council on Environmental Quality.
In mid-December the committee will begin working on a plan to firm up the scientific research on the Delta, help restore habitat, identify threats to water quality, help stabilize levees to prevent flooding, mitigate the effects of climate change, coordinate Delta regulation among agencies and assist in water conservation, recycling and efficiency. The agreement remains in effect for five years.
While all those objectives sound good on the surface, some local Delta advocates, such as Oakley Councilman Bruce Connelley, are skeptical of more governmental intrusion into Delta affairs.
“Over the years since the early 1990s, had our state and federal governments performed their duties to preserve and restore the ecosystem and fish habitats in California, we wouldn’t have the crisis we’re faced with today,” said Connelley via e-mail. “All we need to do is enforce the laws that are on the books now. Many laws, rulings and enactments have been passed by our legislators, only to fail because they were not carried out.”
He cited the failure of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act enacted in 1992 to double the number of fish in Central Valley streams, and the CALFED Bay-Delta program enacted in 1995 to recover at-risk Delta species.
“We don’t need more bureaucracies, laws or enactments,” said Connelley. “We need to enforce the laws we have now and cite those that have had the responsibility to act on them and have failed to do so and try them in a court of law. The federal Sept. 30 Memorandum of Understanding is just bunk! The public has been commenting for decades. Can’t they hear? It’s past time for action not discussion.”
Also skeptical of increased federal involvement in the Delta is Arne Simonsen, an Antioch resident and former chairman of the Delta Protection Commission. He’s concerned about the federal agencies’ goal of helping develop the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which he said is a Delta water grab sponsored by central and southern California water agencies. That plan includes construction of a peripheral canal, which most local officials fear would harm local water quality.
“We were locked out of the process,” said Simonsen. “It was all done behind closed doors and we had a hell of a time getting information about it. The whole purpose of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a peripheral canal. That’s my real hang-up with this thing.”
The public may submit comments on the federal plan by Tuesday, Dec.1 at www.nbc.gov/doi_feedback/water_comments.cfm.