Local Politics

Wednesday, Jan 15 2014 05:13 PM

Locals remain wary as state secretary pushes water plan

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    By Manny Crisostomo/ Sacramento Bee/ ZUMA Press

    An aerial view of the Delta and the islands separated by the Franks Tract in the foreground; San Joaquin river in the middle and the Sacramento River in the background. This aerial photograph of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta was taken Nov. 11, 2008.

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BY LOIS HENRY Californian staff writer lhenry@bakersfield.com

Gov. Jerry Brown and his administration put on a full-court press this week on Brown's plan to fix California's water woes.

Brown himself visited several valley cities.

Related Info

PROPOSED STATE WATER PROJECT

Learn more about the proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the state's effort to make water more reliable south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, at a public meeting.

State and federal staffers will be on hand to answer questions from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel, 5101 California Ave.

The draft environmental documents can also be accessed at:

www.baydeltaconservationplan.com

His plan, known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), went on its own valley tour complete with an entourage of staffers to answer questions.

And Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency John Laird made a string of calls to members of the media.

Whether BDCP improves water supplies in Kern County, where most of our west-side farming is dependant on water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, depends on how you look at the situation, Laird told The Californian Wednesday.

Without the plan, "... the delta will decline and water exports from the delta will continue to decline," he said.

"We are working hard to set up a system that makes the delta reliable (for water exports) in the range of what comes out of the delta now."

Without the BDCP, Laird said several times, things could get worse for Kern water users.

That wasn't good enough to convince some locals that BDCP is worth its gargantuan price tag.

"There's no defined (water) supply that we'd be buying," explained Eric Averett, general manager for the Rosedale Rio-Bravo Water Storage District.

"We'd be buying protection that our water wouldn't diminish, but there is no guarantee that it wouldn't," he said.

Rosedale is so dismayed by the lack of assurances in the BDCP it likely will not continue putting money into the planning phase come March or April when the next round is due.

And without a drastic change to the plan itself, Rosedale likely won't pony up for the biggest ticket item, the twin tunnels.

Several other Kern water districts have also opted not to continue funding the planning phase and are mulling whether to opt out of the twin tunnels as well.

For background, the BDCP aims to do two things. It would restore and manage delta habitat and even out water deliveries using two tunnels that would take water around the delta for delivery south.

It's an ambitious plan with an equally ambitious price tag.

The habitat restoration side would be funded by an $11 billion state bond that could be on the ballot this coming November.

The tunnels, estimated to cost between $14 billion and $17 billion, would be paid for by water users, including nearly all of Kern's agricultural water districts.

Kern's participation in BDCP is key. Together, the local water districts make up 12 percent of the overall cost.

If all of Kern were to drop out, it could greatly upset the cost balance.

In fact, Jerry Meral, until recently the deputy secretary of Natural Resources, said during a visit to Bakersfield last July that such a move would be "devastating" to the project.

"It will not be the opposition that stops this project, or lawsuits," Meral said. "If it fails, it will be because of the unwillingness of the people who would use it to write the checks."

Laird said it's the administration's intent not to get to that point.

"It's in their (Kern water districts') interest to stay in the project," he said. "The only other option is having (water) yields to Kern drop every year over the next few decades."

That's because as fish species decline, regulations kick in that curtail water deliveries. BDCP hopes to stop that cycle by restoring and managing habitat to keep fish levels up.

That's great, Averett said. But if the BDCP really will provide that kind of environmental coverage, then the state should be able to give water districts assurances as to how much water they can expect, and how much it's going to cost.

"But none of that is in the current form of the BDCP," he said.

In fact, the state's own economic evaluation of BDCP said it doesn't make sense for ag. It does for big urban water providers, such as Metropolitan Water District, which provides water for a number of southern California cities, because it can spread the costs among many ratepayers.

Not so much for ag.

Laird said that was a misnomer.

"It works for California overall and provides a more reliable source of water overall for ag," he said. "If ag doesn't have that reliability, that's where the real crisis is."

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