Jury Still Out on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

Delta restoration plan is headed in a better direction but much work remains to be done

San Francisco, CA (July 25, 2012) – Gov. Jerry Brown, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Assistant NOAA Administrator Eric Schwaab today announced a change in direction of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a proposal to build a massive set of tunnels to divert water around the San Francisco Bay Delta, the largest estuary along the west coast of the Pacific Ocean and a major source of water supply for Californians.

Following is a statement from Kate Poole, senior attorney in NRDC’s Water Program:

“The San Francisco Bay Delta, and the people and wildlife that depend on it, should not be held hostage by outdated ‘tunnel vision’. Twenty-first century technology opens up new sources of water, including water conservation and efficiency, recycling and other tools to allow us to reduce our reliance on the delta, allow fish to recover, farmers to farm and people to turn on the tap and rely on good quality water.”

“There is no credible science to support assumptions that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan can increase water diversions from the delta without continuing to sacrifice an ecosystem in peril, California’s salmon fishery and upstream water rights holders. Any proposal to build a massive set of tunnels to divert water around the San Francisco Bay Delta before figuring out how to operate and pay for it, is putting plumbing before sensible policy.” 


Historically high levels of water diversions over the last decade have crippled the San Francisco Bay Delta, threatening the health and economies of California communities. That’s why NRDC worked with many stakeholders to pass the Delta Reform Act of 2009, which requires the BDCP to restore the delta ecosystem and improve water supply reliability. These dual goals will ensure California has sufficient, clean and cool flows so salmon and other native fish, that are the barometer for a healthy ecosystem, can recover and thrive. Their recent severe declines are an unmistakable sign that current uses of the San Francisco Bay Delta are unsustainable.    

Numerous independent scientific reviews have confirmed that California needs to reduce the amount of water taken from the delta if we want to restore the estuary to health. Proven solutions, like water conservation, efficiency and recycling, stormwater capture and reuse, and better groundwater management, can ensure all Californians meet their water supply needs while providing more new water than what’s currently exported from the delta.

The recent steps taken by BDCP participants to address these key issues are encouraging, but much work remains to be done, including:

  • Development of enforceable and scientifically sound operational rules for any new facility to ensure that it protects and restores water quality, native fisheries and the health of the delta;
  • Commitments to increase water use efficiency in exporting regions and to develop regional water supplies such as water recycling and groundwater banking to ensure reliable, cost-effective water supplies for future generations;
  • A stronger commitment to achieving recovery and restoration of native fisheries, including enforceable biological objectives to achieve recovery, an effective adaptive management program that ensures adequate environmental flows and other measures, and governance mechanisms to ensure that these commitments are met; and
  • Funding arrangements to ensure that implementation of the plan is feasible. 

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