NRDC Identifies Strengths and Weaknesses in CALFED "Framework" To Address California Water Problems

Statement by NRDC Water Policy Analyst Barry Nelson and Ann Notthoff, NRDC California Advocacy Director

SAN FRANCISCO (June 9, 2000) - The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) identified strengths and weaknesses in the CALFED document released by California Governor Gray Davis and U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. The document lays out a "framework" for the CALFED Bay-Delta Program.

"The issues that CALFED is working to address are complex technically and politically and will only be resolved through a comprehensive program," says Barry Nelson, a Senior Policy Analyst with NRDC. "CALFED is attempting such a comprehensive approach. This process is not easy. It’s time consuming and often painful. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, CALFED is the worst of all possible ways to solve California’s water problems -- except for all of the others. We strongly believe that wise decisions in the coming months can lead to a plan that will help restore the Bay-Delta Ecosystem and strengthen the California economy."

"Although NRDC has not completed a full review of the lengthy document that Governor Davis and Secretary Babbitt released," said Ann Notthoff, director of California advocacy for NRDC, "we have reached several conclusions.

"First, there are a number of areas where the document represents a significant step forward. These include funding for ecosystem restoration, investments in water use efficiency and steps toward effective groundwater management. These are essential components to the final plan. Additional improvements are needed, but these areas are moving in the right direction.

"Second, there are a number of serious problems in the document that could lead to further degradation of an already damaged ecosystem. These problems include proposals to build or raise dams and increase diversions from overtapped rivers, limits on protections for endangered species, and reductions in the amount of water provided for fisheries restoration as required by federal law (under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act).

"Third, this document does not represent a final CALFED plan. Developing a balanced and comprehensive final CALFED program is an extraordinarily difficult task -- one that this framework does not claim to achieve, nor has it done so. The final plan will be developed in the coming several months.

"Fourth, developing a final plan will require broader input from Californians. We look forward to a greater involvement in developing the visionary program that California needs and deserves."

CALFED is a joint state-federal program working to develop a plan to restore the health of the Bay-Delta ecosystem, improve water quality, improve water supply reliability and decrease the vulnerability of the system to natural disaster. NRDC has been deeply involved in CALFED since its creation five years ago. A final CALFED plan will be drafted over the coming few months. A final decision is expected sometime after this August.

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.