“We’re excited that they are slowing it down, but I’m not super surprised,” said Mike Guzzardo, publicity chairman for the Discovery Bay-based group San Francisco Bay and Delta Foundation (SFBDF). “It’s a minor victory, but we’re happy.”
The Federal Interim Act report, released Dec. 22, promises a stronger working relationship between state and federal agencies as it pertains to California’s drinking water and the declining Bay-Delta environment. The 23-page report also calls for, among other items, a re-evaluation of the scientific process and cost efficiency behind the proposed 2-Gates program.
“Federal agencies have undertaken intensive review and permitting efforts on this project in recent months,” reads an excerpt from the report. “As the reviews have proceeded, it has become clear that the project purpose could most expeditiously be advanced by first proving (or disproving) the underlying hypothesis that must be established for the 2-Gates project to be effective as a potential water supply enhancement.”
The 2-gates project is a five-year experimental program designed to save the Delta smelt by rerouting them away from the water pumps on Old and Middle rivers in Byron.
The project is a joint venture by the State Department of Water Resources, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation and the Southern California Metropolitan Water District, and would implement the installation of gates at Old River between Holland Tract and Bacon Island, plus a Connection Slough between Mandeville and Bacon Island. The automatic gates would be closed at various times of the year for as much as 20 hours per day, depending on flood tides.
Over the past few months, local groups and organizations up and down the Delta have lobbied for a halt to the gates project. In Discovery Bay, the SFBDF was able to extend the public comment period on the project, and eventually hopes to force the Bureau of Reclamation to provide an Environmental Impact Report for the Discovery Bay and Delta regions.
Members of the SFBDF also met recently, along with Congressman Jerry McNerney and Supervisor Mary Piepho, with the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to discuss the 2-Gates project.
“Clearly this was all already in the works (the plans to delay the project) before we had the meeting,” said Guzzardo. “But it was still good (to meet) and it was a good first step toward local government and citizens working together to find a solution.”
Pete Lucero, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation, said that the decision by the Obama administration to delay the project was the result of a September study by the Cal-Fed Science Project Panel, in which a group of independent entities examined the proposal and agreed that the 2-Gates project required further study.
“There was some question about the science that underpinned the project and left some questions as to whether it would perform as designed,” said Lucero. “We don’t want to spend public funds on something that isn’t robust enough to work. We’re going to be looking at the information we’ve received from the (science) panel and weigh the value versus cost … We felt it was in the public’s best interest to address the questions put forth by the science panel.”
Guzzardo thinks so too, and believes that the strong voices of Discovery Bay residents played more than a minor role in the delay of the project. “We’ve been told by the bureau (of reclamation) that we started a hornet’s nest,” he said, “and obviously we did enough so that the top engineers from the Army Corp and Bureau of Reclamation are taking another look.”
Lucero agreed the group might have made an impact on the decision to re-examine the project.
“I think that the issues brought up by the Delta citizens was certainly part of the review process,” said Lucero. “The decision to take another look at the project isn’t what I would say is a normal process, but it does happen.”
According to Lucero, a date for the final determination on the 2-Gates project is anyone’s guess. What is clear is that the autumn 2010 deadline for construction of the gates is unlikely to be met.
“We just don’t have any idea at this point as to when or if the project will proceed,” said Lucero. “It was a fast-tracked project to begin with, and our part of the project was to simply get the permitting done. And when these questions came up, the schedule slipped back. As far as the (original) construction deadline goes, that’s not going to happen.”
And that’s just fine with Guzzardo and the SFBDF. “This is (just) a delay, but we’re happy they are slowing things down,” said Guzzardo. “We will, however, continue our studies in our area and watch and see what happens, because the end result is that if they decide to put the gates in, this will all be as if nothing happened. We definitely need to keep our eyes on it.”
Donations to the SFBDF may be mailed to 4112 Windward Court, Discovery Bay , CA 94505. For more information on the 2-Gates project, visit www.nodeltagates.com.