If you didn’t know anything about BDCP, you wouldn’t get the real story from the plan’s website. The page “About the BDCP” will tell you that “The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is being prepared by a group of local water agencies, environmental and conservation organizations, state and federal agencies, and other interest groups.” What do they mean by “local”? The South and Central Delta water agencies are not part of the BDCP working groups, and North Delta Water Agency, while in the process, has been virtually ignored at the table.
The main agencies behind this process don’t meet our definition of “local”: Westlands Water District, Kern County Water Agency, and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
More misrepresentations: “The BDCP is being developed in compliance with the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the California Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA). When complete, the BDCP will provide the basis for the issuance of endangered species permits for the operation of the state and federal water projects. The plan would be implemented over the next 50 years. The heart of the BDCP is a long-term conservation strategy that sets forth actions needed for a healthy Delta.”
Baloney. Here’s why.
|“Foundational” flaws in BDCP
Friends of the River (FOR) has sent a comment letter to officers and staff of federal agencies – the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – alerting them to “foundational violations of law and fundamental analytical deficiencies in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) process being carried out by the federal Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources (DWR).”
NMFS and USFWS have already “red flagged” ways the Peripheral Tunnels would threaten endangered fish species. FOR’s letter details the reasons why BDCP is an illegitimate basis for fisheries agencies to issues incidental take permits under the Endangered Species Act.
“The BDCP is not a legitimate Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) because it does not actually ensure the continued existence of the relevant endangered species.” In fact, BDCP has been designed to free contractors from any obligation to provide adequate water for fish even if the plan fails to achieve recovery goals.
FOR’s letter reminds the fisheries agencies that “Removing freshwater deliveries from critical habitat areas and replacing it with dubious mitigation measures elsewhere will surely not satisfy ESA’s mandates to refrain from adversely modifying critical habitat and avoiding jeopardy to the continued existence of endangered species.”
Asserting that “the cart has unlawfully been placed before the horse,” FOR’s letter points out that the agencies cannot rely on BDCP documents to fulfill their obligations to conduct a biological assessment, an ESA consultation, and a biological opinion that includes analyzing a Reasonable Prudent Alternative. (That would include no conveyance at all, as proposed by the Environmental Water Caucus “Responsible Exports Plan.”)
FOR’s letter also refers to the Delta Reform Act requirement that flow criteria developed by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) inform planning decisions for the Delta Plan and BDCP. “The BDCP process is simply a DWR effort to make a premature and unlawful decision to develop the massive Delta Water Tunnels before rather than after determining whether updated flow objectives would even allow such quantities of water to be diverted upstream away from the Delta.”
And in the absence of a public trust doctrine analysis and setting of new, stricter flow objectives, with EPA review, there is no water supply availability analysis, quantification, and analysis of environmental impacts required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Calling the BDCP process “fatally flawed,” FOR’s letter concludes that “It is time now for the federal agencies to withdraw from the unlawful BDCP process and follow ESA Section 7 and federal Clean Water Act and California CEQA and public trust doctrine procedures.”
|BDCP costs, “from the horse’s mouth”
Restore the Delta has been saying since last summer that the total cost of the Peripheral Tunnels/BDCP would be close to $55 billion, not the $14 billion BDCP kept talking about. Here, from the BDCP’s own documents, are supporting details of projected costs for the 50 years of the permit period:
Construction – $14.5 billion
Operations and maintenance – $1.5 billion
Interest on Tunnel Revenue bonds – $26.3 billion
Habitat and Conservation – $7 billion
Interest on General Obligation Bonds – $3.2 billion
Administration and Research – $1.6 billion
TOTAL – $54.1 billion
|Negotiating SWP contract extensions (or not)
DWR has been holding Contract Extension Negotiation Sessions with the State Water Project Contractors. Meeting summaries are posted for May 1 and May 15, but by May 29 things seem to have been breaking down.
Now the session scheduled for June 12 has been cancelled. Another is tentatively scheduled for June 26.
DWR and the SWP contractors entered into water supply contracts in the 1960s to provide water service in exchange for payments to finance, build, improve, operate, and maintain SWP facilities. The first contract was with Metropolitan Water District, and it extends to 2035. Other contracts signed later have terms that extend to 2035 or beyond. According to an April memo from DWR, “Several SWP Contractors have expressed interest in extending their contracts beyond the current termination date and amending certain financial provisions.”
One issue: Contractors need to be able to sell bonds and keep the debt service as low as possible. Bonds typically sold with a 30-year repayment period can now be sold with only 22-year repayment periods due to the 2035 maturity date limitation. They’ll have to sell bonds to help finance the Peripheral Tunnels.
Another issue is reserves. The SWP is the largest state-built utility in the U.S. and costs $1 billion annually. (So should BDCP maybe adjust that $1.5 billion estimate for operating and maintaining the Tunnels for 50 years?) Current reserves are only $27 million (less than 3 percent). DWR would like to get that reserve up to $200 million, which represents 120 days of operational reserves and power purchases.
|Building is fun, maintaining is boring
As we’ve seen lately with collapsing bridges, it’s one thing to build “visionary” infrastructure. It’s another thing to operate and maintain it for all the decades of its planned life.
Compromised SWP operations could be a really BIG elephant in a room already full of pachyderms.
In January of 2011, the California Water Commission (CWC) got a briefing from Ralph Torres, Deputy Director for the State Water Project on ”State Water Project Current Issues and Challenges.” (We reported on this meeting on 1/27/11.)
Torres reported that that for the first time in 2010, the SWP actually missed making water deliveries. There were breakdowns and forced outages because the SWP couldn’t find and retain qualified water and power dispatchers – people who knew things like how to properly schedule energy to turn on a pump.
That year, the SWP paid $57,000 in fines for not meeting North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) regulations for activities such as relay testing.
At the time, the SWP couldn’t offer competitive wages to qualified electricians, mechanics, and operators. Torres reported that SWP salaries lagged 32% below the industry median in 2010.
One result of these staffing problems was that the SWP faced a significant backlog of deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance leads to increased energy costs, reduced equipment service life, and possibly decreased safety, for both employees and the public. Torres told the commissioners, “We won’t give up safety to deliver water.”
With SWP reserves as low as DWR is reporting, it’s doubtful that this situation has improved much in the last three years.
|Reserving the right to change his mind?
While researching the January 2011 CWC meeting, we turned up this juicy tidbit from Jerry Meral, who never misses a chance to tell a listener what the listener wants to hear. (This can make it hard to know what Meral himself actually thinks.)
During a presentation that day on the BDCP, then-commissioner Dave Cogdill asked about the science behind a 15,000 cfs conveyance. Karla Nemeth said that BDCP had tried to match the capacity of the existing State and federal water project system. Cogdill thought that wasn’t big enough for wet year management, sending water south for above ground storage and for recharge of aquifers.
Said Jerry Meral, “You’re absolutely right.”
In other words, Meral agreed with Cogdill in 2011 that a facility with a 15,000 cfs capacity was TOO SMALL.
|From Westlands: Refreshing candor and a good idea
By contrast, we ALWAYS know what Jason Peltier of Westlands Water District really thinks. Here’s a link to a YouTube clip of him telling Senator Fran Pavley.
And here is Westlands doing something we approve of: proposing to generate power with solar facilities on San Joaquin Valley land that has salty soil and poor drainage. That means more water for growing food on prime farmland elsewhere, like the Delta.
Melinda Terry of the North Delta Water Agency, our source for the arresting numbers on pile driving and tunnel muck in our recent newsletter, reports that she had the wrong number for consecutive days of pile driving.
If there are about 1,000 piles total to be installed according to Appendix 3C in the BDCP Plan chapter 3, then 1,000 (total piles) ÷ 30 (avg # installed per day) = 33 days. In total there will be 1,000 X 700 = 700,000 pile driving strikes over 33 days.
OK, so that’s fewer strikes than originally estimated. Still, raise your hand if you want to be around while 700 strikes per day are delivered for weeks.