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February 2011
Subscribe to Your Water – Metropolitan’s E–Newsletter.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Update

The comprehensive state and federal plan to address the ongoing water system/ecosystem crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has reached a crucial phase in planning and decision-making. If momentum to making these key decisions continues, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) will produce a formal draft proposal later this year to place water supply reliability and the Delta environment on paths toward recovery.

“We will need the continued leadership of the state and federal agencies to ensure that BDCP stays on track to meet California’s co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration in the Delta,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “Considerable progress has been made. Key upcoming decisions, and the pace of progress, will be essential for Metropolitan and other participating water districts to commit to billions of dollars in water system investments that are envisioned by the emerging BDCP.”



Launched nearly four years ago, BDCP represents a comprehensive and innovative method of complying with the Endangered Species Act for the Delta’s two primary water projects, the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP). Metropolitan receives its Northern California supply via the SWP. At present the state and federal wildlife agencies enforce the environmental statutes in somewhat of a piecemeal fashion, with different sets of pumping restrictions and protective actions for affected species such as delta smelt and winter-run salmon. BDCP proposes a single comprehensive plan of water system and ecosystem improvements for a broad array of aquatic and terrestrial species that could provide Endangered Species Act coverage for the SWP and CVP for as long as 50 years.

The BDCP process includes the leadership of six state and federal agencies. Metropolitan and other agencies receiving supplies from Delta water projects are financing the planning and environmental review process, with more than $140 million in funding to date. These various agencies have participated in a Steering Committee process along with environmental groups and other stakeholders. BDCP has held more than 300 public meetings and briefings to date.

BDCP made considerable progress at the end of 2010 on the eve of the gubernatorial transition. The Steering Committee released a draft of all chapters of the plan. In December, both the state and federal teams released their own BDCP update reports. Both concurred that improved water supply and reliability and ecosystem restoration appeared possible under the emerging plan. The federal and state agencies agreed that a new water conveyance facility is necessary to divert water supplies that travel through the northern Delta and to transport these supplies to the existing aqueduct systems via either a canal or tunnel.

Habitat restoration is the centerpiece of BDCP’s emerging environmental strategy. The draft plan calls for up to 113,000 acres of protected and restored habitat, particularly wetland restoration and improved floodplain habitat. BDCP is also addressing a comprehensive strategy to address other stressors facing the ecosystem.

“BDCP represents the most promising effort to date to address the complex problems of the Delta with a comprehensive solution,” said Kightlinger. “What the process needs now is some key decisions in order to maintain the momentum and progress toward the release of a draft environmental impact statement later this year.”

For conveyance, considerable planning effort has focused on the construction of two parallel 31-mile tunnels that together could transport as much as 15,000 cubic feet per second of water. This tunnel system, which could provide gravity-fed flows to the southern Delta under a variety of conditions, would be supplied by as many as five new intakes on the Sacramento River. Preliminary estimates suggest the tunnel facility is cost-effective. Additional geotechnical studies would take place to better understand potential construction challenges.

BDCP principals must identify a preferred conveyance method and proposed size. In addition, the BDCP process must settle on proposed operating criteria for the new water conveyance system in order to assess the water supply and environmental benefits. These are among the key planning decisions that must be made in the short term.

Against this planning backdrop, several agricultural water districts that receive supplies from the Central Valley Project have committed funds to continue the planning process through February. Two key legal challenges to Delta pumping restrictions face the federal district court in Fresno. The court recently ruled against the scientific justification of many of the pumping restrictions for the delta smelt. The court has yet to rule on a similar legal challenge for pumping restrictions for two salmon species. Metropolitan is among the plaintiffs in both cases.

Metropolitan will provide updates on this important effort in upcoming editions of “Your Water”.


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