Environmentalists Say New Water Plan Jeopardized
by Proposed Federal Water Contracts

"Business As Usual" Could Threaten Bay-Delta Restoration

SAN FRANCISCO (August 28, 2000) - Even as the Davis and Clinton administrations announced their final record of decision on the new CALFED state water plan, a national environmental group warned that old-fashioned federal water contracts could prevent the plan from achieving the very goals that state and federal leaders were hailing.

The long-awaited CALFED plan announced today is the culmination of a six-year joint state-federal effort to chart a new course for California water policy to restore the Bay-Delta ecosystem and improve water supply reliability. Almost simultaneously, the Department of Interior, the key federal agency in CALFED, is writing new water contracts to replace expiring contracts with agricultural water users in the Central Valley. The draft contracts promise vastly more water deliveries than the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) can currently deliver and would renew massive taxpayer subsidies, according to Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst with NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council).

"The left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing," says Nelson. "CALFED was intended to lead to a new, economically and environmentally rational way of doing business on water. Unfortunately, the Department of Interior’s draft water contracts represent business as usual. If signed in the coming months, they would dramatically increase pressure for more dams, more delta diversion and more environmental destruction -- exactly the kind of old-fashioned water development CALFED was supposed to end. It’s particularly unfortunate because CALFED has made real progress on many tough issues."

The Department of Interior released its new position on renewal of expiring CVP water contracts on June 26, just two weeks after the release of the CALFED framework, the outline for the plan adopted today. The department’s previous proposal would have modified contract totals be consistent with CALFED by reflecting the actual delivery capability of the CVP. The new position would leave contract totals unchanged.

The importance of CVP contracts was highlighted by the Westlands Water District’s August 4 petition to the State Water Resources Control Board to wrest control of one-third of the annual flow of the San Joaquin River away from thousands of farmers on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley.

"The sole justification offered by Westlands for its attack on the river is that the CVP is not making full deliveries," says Nelson. "Westlands is conveniently forgetting that it signed the Bay-Delta Accord in 1994 and endorsed a reduction in its deliveries to 65 to 70 percent of its CVP contract. This year Westlands is receiving 65 percent -- exactly what it agreed to. Now, the chairman of Westlands says it will stop this new water war only if the CVP increases delta pumping and delivers a 100 percent supply. Nothing could more clearly illustrate why water contracts must not promise more than water projects can deliver."

The federal contracts overshadow areas of significant progress in the CALFED plan, according to NRDC. For example, the plan includes a commitment to an ambitious ecosystem restoration program and a $3 billion investment in water use efficiency over the next seven years, which is the cheapest and most benign way to meet the state’s water needs. It also calls for important actions to improve drinking water quality and effective groundwater management throughout the state.

"Governor Davis and Secretary Babbitt have acknowledged that California must restore the beleaguered delta ecosystem, invest in water conservation and develop a real groundwater management program," says Ann Notthoff, NRDC’s California advocacy director. "However, it would be a terrible waste if the work of CALFED were poisoned by outdated federal water contracts."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.