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Water and farm groups say delta draft goes too far

Issue Date: April 20, 2011
By Kate Campbell

Water, agricultural and business organizations have warned the state's Delta Stewardship Council that it appears to be overstepping its authority. Meanwhile, state and federal agencies say they plan to provide a briefing next week on the status of another effort to address complex problems facing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

In an April 8 letter to the Delta Stewardship Council, the state's leading water agencies, along with agricultural and business groups including the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the council's most recent draft plan takes an "overly expansive view" of its authority. The council was created by the state Legislature in 2009, to develop "a sustainable management plan" for the delta.

The legislation included a series of deadlines for plan development and public review, leading to adoption by Jan. 1, 2012. The seven-member council was charged with producing a framework for better coordination of efforts to improve the delta's environmental health and ensure reliable water supplies, while assuring protection of delta communities, infrastructure and agriculture.

In their letter, the water, farm and business organizations voiced "grave concern" about the direction the council is headed with its latest draft plan. The groups said the council's mandate does not authorize it to regulate water-related activities outside the delta.

"As we stated in the letter, we recognize there may be actions that need to be taken outside the delta to meet the goals established by the Legislature," said Danny Merkley, CFBF water resources director. "But the language creating the council was crystal clear. The Delta Stewardship Council was not to usurp existing authorities. The council's current, overreaching regulatory approach goes well beyond its intended authority."

Manager Tom Birmingham of the Westlands Water District, which also signed the letter to the council, agreed. He noted that the 2009 legislation was careful not to make the Delta Stewardship Council into a new regulatory agency. However, having an entity that can coordinate involvement of all the agencies involved in the delta would be of value, he said.

"The delta plan is intended as a framework against which other agencies can evaluate their actions in terms of achieving the co-equal goals established by the Legislature," Birmingham said. "But the first two drafts give the council authority to review actions outside the delta."

The council will complete four drafts of its plan for a final coordinating framework for the delta before presenting it for public review and comment in June.

Simultaneously, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, one of the nation's largest aquatic habitat conservation plans, will be the focus of an April 25 public briefing in Sacramento to discuss the status of meeting the plan's dual goals of protecting and restoring the delta while providing a more reliable water supply.

State Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral and Deputy U.S. Interior Secretary David Hayes will conduct the briefing. The final plan and environmental impact report are scheduled to be released by the end of 2012 and are intended to serve as a road map for delta management for the next 50 years.

In a letter in early March, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told BDCP participants she is "encouraged" by the new state administration's commitment to new conveyance and storage opportunities.

"The settlement of the smelt case shows a renewed willingness to resolve these issues among the federal and state fisheries agencies," Feinstein said.

A settlement reached in March among the state and federal governments, farmers, water contractors and environmental groups allows more water to be pumped through the delta this spring while still providing protection to the delta smelt.

The temporary agreement, approved by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger, lasts through June. It gives state and federal operators of the delta pumps an interim plan for delivering water to San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California cities while federal scientists work to revise a new regulatory plan on delta pumping that protects the fish.

Water deliveries south of the delta from the water projects stand at 70 percent of requested deliveries for the State Water Project and 75 percent for the federal Central Valley Project.

The announcement earlier this month of an increase in CVP water deliveries for farms south of the delta came too late for many San Joaquin Valley farmers, who had already finalized plans for crop planting before the increased allocation announcement, Birmingham said.

CFBF Natural Resources and Environmental Counsel Chris Scheuring said farmers welcome the increased water supplies, but "the recent announcements don't change the fact that we continue to play catch-as-catch-can for delivery of project water to areas south of the delta. Farm Bureau continues to pursue the long-term solution in that regard."

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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