Under the current system, total disruption of deliveries is also a
possibility. Levees surround the Delta’s 57 islands and many of the
islands are deeply sunken. If levees broke in a flood or earthquake,
saltwater could be drawn inland, within range of federal and state
water project pumps in the south Delta. In this case, the pumps
may have to be shut down to avoid contamination for possibly
weeks, months or years, depending upon the extent, location and
timing of the levee breaks.
A state and federal plan now in its seventh year of development
seeks to balance environmental and economic needs in the Delta.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is a habitat conservation
plan under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and California’s
Natural Community Conservation Planning Act. It describes
myriad actions grouped under 22 separate conservation measures
that together would improve conditions for 57 different species of
plants and animals in the Delta.
The plan is designed for a 50-year endangered species permit
that would cover the Delta operations of the State Water Project,
operated by the California Department of Water Resources, and the
Central Valley Project, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The plan would cost an estimated $25 billion over 50 years and
two-thirds would be paid by customers of the water projects.
The most controversial of the 22 conservation measures is a
proposal to build new facilities to allow new methods for pumping
water from the Delta. The new pumping plants and 35-mile-long
tunnels are considered “conservation” measures because the existing
location of the south Delta pumps makes their operation harmful to
Delta smelt and young salmon migrating to the ocean. Located on
dead-end channels, those south Delta pumps entrain fish directly
and change natural flow patterns in ways that confuse migratory fish.
The new facilities would change these operations to benefit the fish.
The BDCP proposes to build new intakes along the main Sacramento
River at the northern edge of the Delta. That stretch of river
is not a primary area used by Delta smelt, and state-of-the-art fish
screens would be installed along the intakes that would minimize
harm to passing fish. Biologists agree that minimizing the use of
the south Delta pumps would help native fish recover and the new
facilities would contribute to achieving this goal.
In this vein, the BDCP also proposes to improve conditions for
fish and wildlife in the Delta by creating or protecting 145,000
acres of habitat, which includes 65,000 acres of tidal marsh. Most
of the historical marsh vanished from the Delta as settlers drained
swamps and built levees in order to farm rich peat soil. Ideally, the
creation of new floodplains, tidal marsh, riparian forest and other
types of habitat will revitalize the ecosystem and food chain to help
a variety of species, including salmon, sturgeon, splittail, Swainson’s
hawks, and sandhill cranes. Healthier wildlife populations
would mean more stable water deliveries.
No Additional Supplies
Overall, implementation of the plan is not expected to significantly
increase delivery of Delta water to Southern California,
the San Joaquin Valley or San Francisco Bay Area farms and cities.
Annual average deliveries from the federal and state water projects
are expected to fall within a range of 4.8 million acre-feet to
5.6 million acre-feet, not far off the 5.3 million acre-foot average
annual deliveries of the last 20 years. Although the BDCP would
not necessarily increase water supplies, it would prevent deep
erosion of future supplies. Without the comprehensive plan, native
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