A remarkable bit of honesty was committed earlier this week by representatives of the Westlands Water District. The Chief Deputy General Manager of Westlands, Jason Peltier, testified before an Assembly Committee that Westlands’ vision for salvaging the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan process requires political appointees to “step in” and “manage” “mid-level” federal agency biologists. [See video here at 1:12] Westlands’ statement follows news that agency biologists have indicated that Westlands’ proposed plan for BDCP – one that would vastly increase exports from the Delta over the levels seen in nearly every previous year – could lead to the extinction of at least one species that the plan is supposed to recover. In the words of Mr. Peltier, “if we simply just sit back and say: what do you think mid-level biologists? We’re going nowhere.” [See video here at 1:12:30]
So much for Westlands’ commitment to “ensure that the [Endangered Species] Act is implemented in a manner consistent with its requirement that decisions be based on the basis of the best available science.” [http://westernfarmpress.com/westlands-water-district-files-lawsuit-biological-opinion] When the science doesn’t tell Westlands what it wants to hear, it appears they are ready to run straight to the politicians to cook up a different answer.
The “mid-level biologists” that Mr. Peltier so scornfully derides did not deliver a message that surprised anyone who has been paying attention. The notion that we can recover the Delta’s ecosystem by taking even more water out of it has been resoundingly rejected by numerous recent studies, including ones conducted by the State Water Resources Control Board, the National Academy of Sciences, the Public Policy Institute of California (see page 5, explaining that even with a peripheral canal, “water users must be prepared to take less water from the Delta, at least until endangered fish populations recover”), and the Chief Scientist of the CALFED Science Program. These “mid-level biologists” are the very people to whom our laws have delegated the task of assessing the environmental impact of proposed projects. We make this delegation in our society of laws for the purpose of obtaining an objective analysis of the long-term impacts of our actions before deciding to embark on a multi-billion dollar project that would dwarf the size of the Chunnel connecting France and England. And these “mid-level biologists” – who, unlike Westlands’ paid consultants, are not generously compensated to reach a pre-ordained result – are the best hope that we have of finally getting past the crisis management that we’ve experienced in the Delta over the last couple of decades and onto a path of recovery, stability and predictability.
This is a critical time for the future of the Bay-Delta, and the stakes are very high. But the solutions are out there – we can save California’s 150 year-old salmon fishery, restore the Delta as the heart of the Pacific Flyway, and provide for plentiful water supplies for agricultural, residential, and industrial use now and well into the future. The question is: are we going to listen to the science and chart a path towards a sustainable water future, just as California has done in the world of climate change and energy; or are we going to revert to a battle of raw political power and continue the cycle of broken water policies?