Our Delta Is At Risk and Needs Our Help

By Mary Nejedly Piepho
District III Supervisor
Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors

Many may remember the fierce water battle days of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. These battles culminated in the California State Legislature passing legislation that authorized the construction of a Peripheral Canal that would have had significant negative impacts on Contra Costa County, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and the San Francisco Bay.

Some involved in those water policy negotiations are still around, like former county supervisor Sunne Wright McPeak, retired state legislator Daniel E. Boatwright, Governor Jerry Brown and Congressman George Miller. Unfortunately others are not around, like my dad the late state senator John A. Nejedly.

In 1982 a grass-roots effort ultimately defeated the Peripheral Canal by a state-wide voter initiative. While that battle was won on behalf of the Delta and good public policy, the interest and focus of those who sought our water to begin with never went away.

In 2009 the California State Legislature again took up the issue of water supply and reliability for all Californians by convening an Extraordinary Session to focus solely on water. The culmination of this legislative session was the creation of SBX7-1, a comprehensive package reforming governance of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and related aspects of statewide water management.

It became clear the Delta and our local interests were in the cross-hairs of Southern California and Valley interests. A water grab was once again at play. The five Delta County Coalition (DCC) was formed to enhance our advocacy and we have been working feverishly ever since. Our goal is to interject local interests into the development of any policy related to our Delta.

We sought and won in the SBX7-1 legislative language protections for the Delta “as a place”, reduce reliance on the Delta, establish “co-equal goals” and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, restructure the Delta Protection Commission to better represent local government and stake-holders, promote regional self-sufficiency, and designate the Delta as a National Heritage Area.

“‘Co-equal goals’ means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.” (CA Water Code §85054)

We did not succeed however on gaining meaningful representation (we sought 3 Delta seats) on the newly formed Delta Stewardship Council (DSC), but we did get a seat for the chair of the Delta Protection Commission (DPC).

We sought legislative oversight over the newly formed Delta Stewardship Council and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). This request was important for us because the power behind water is money and votes. In this regard, northern California is in a very vulnerable position. Unfortunately, this good public policy request was denied.

The five Delta Coalition sought oversight that had direct accountability to the public and the taxpayer. The DSC operates under a public meeting format, but the sitting members are appointed by the Governor and legislature. What the DSC ultimately decides to do under their legislated authority, which includes development of a Delta Plan to “guide state and local actions in the Delta in a manner that furthers the co-equal goals of Delta restoration and water supply reliability”, is final. Whether we like it or not.

This is extremely relevant, particularly since the DSC also has the authority to hear appeals with regard to determinations that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) has met its legal standards under Water Code Section 85320.

Here is the kicker. The BDCP is the Peripheral Canal of the 21st Century. The BDCP is project based, i.e. canal construction, and is paid for principally by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Kern County Water Agency, and Westlands Water District to the tune of $240 million dollars. A third is paid for by the federal government (which means me and you). This is only for the cost of permits and does not include any construction or mitigation expenses. The BDCP provides 50-year operating permits under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.

There is no question that our Delta is at risk and needs our help. It is time for us to work together and perform as our citizens deserve. We must first begin with identifying what the Delta and Bay need to get healthy and stay that way. Until then, the fight will continue.

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