Bill requiring peripheral canal cost-benefit analysis clears committee

While fall run chinook salmon numbers are on the rebound this year, the Sacramento adult winter chinook population, an endangered species, plummeted to only 1,596 fish in 2010.  The peripheral canal is expected to hasten the extinction of winter run chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species.

           Winter-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) reared to adulthood in a captive broodstock program at Bodega Marine Laboratory (Photo courtesy U.C. Davis)

by Dan Bacher

In a major win for Delta advocates, the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on April 24 voted 10 to 2 to approve legislation requiring an independent cost-benefit analysis before committing the public to pay tens of billions of dollars to build a peripheral canal or tunnel to divert more Delta water.

A coalition of consumer, environmental and fishing groups and Delta cities and counties backed the legislation, AB 2421 (B. Berryhill), while agribusiness groups, the California Chamber of Commerce and southern California water agencies opposed the bill.

Assembly Members Jared Huffman (D), Bill Berryhill (R), Bob Blumenfield (D), Nora Campos (D), Paul Fong (D), Beth Gaines (R), Das Williams (D), Roger Hernández (D), Ben Hueso (D) and Mariko Yamada (D) voted yes, while Ricardo Lara (D) and Linda Halderman (R) voted no. Brian W. Jones (R) didn’t vote.

The bill “requires that an independent third party costs and benefits of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) be submitted to the Legislature prior to the BDCP’s inclusion in the Delta Plan, or by June 30, 2013, whichever comes first.”

AB 2421 also requires that the third party conducting the analysis shall be chosen by one representative each from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Delta Protection Commission, and the State Water Contractors, Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton), told the Committee. “A fair and balanced analysis is all we want,” said Berryhill.

“AB 2421 is a significant step towards ensuring that any project proposed to shift massive amounts of water around the Delta will be studied to understand the true impact on the Delta,” Berryhill said. “As a farmer and a resident of San Joaquin County I want to know how much that water will cost Californians and what will be impact on the farmers and ecosystem in the Delta.”

Before the vote, Committee Chair Jared Huffman said he believes “the public is entitled to know if it is investing in something that is on a path toward success.”

The maximum analysis cost will be limited to $1 million by the bill.

Southern California ratepayers have expressed strong support for the legislation, since they fear the construction of the canal could increase their water rates.

“Urban water users would pay billions of dollars for a massive peripheral canal or tunnel,” Conner Everts, Executive Director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance, told the committee. “Those who’ll pay deserve to know how much they’d pay and how much benefit would go to those ratepayers.”

“There are numerous references to studies, but not one would require a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis,” Everts emphasized.

Restore the Delta, Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club California, the Planning & Conservation League, Clean Water Action, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Delta Coalition, Ducks Unlimited and other groups joined in the call for an independent cost-benefit analysis.

“It’s essential to have an independent analysis of who pays and who benefits before embarking on the largest public works project in the history of California,” Kristin Lynch, Pacific Region Director of Food & Water Watch, told the committee. “The BDCP could create a large potential financial exposure for the people of California. The people deserve to know the true cost they are taking on.”

Opponents of the legislation, including the Metropolitan Water District, testified that they view AB 2421 as “threat to achieving the co-equal goals of ecosystem restoration and reliable water supplies.” They stated that this bill would “repeal the process delineated in the 2009 Delta/water mangement legislation that created a path towards new Delta conveyance and ecosystem improvements.”

“I believe that the legislation is simply not necessary,” said Roger Patterson, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District, claiming that a financial analysis of the BDCP will be conducted by UC Berkeley. “This extensive financial analysis will delineate all aspects of the plan, not just conveyance. It will have detailed cost and benefits of the plan available when it comes out.”

However, Berryhill and bill proponents pointed out that the Natural Resources Agency has said that no comprehensive cost-benefit analysis will be done, in spite of this issue being continually raised by the stakeholders.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, responded, “It is just absolutely amazing that Metropolitan Water District opposed the independent cost-benefit analysis because they felt it would undermine the BDCP. How did they expect to build this project without transparency and full support from their ratepayers?”

“This is such a turning point for the facts that should really have been done a long time ago!” said Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, after the bill was approved. “It is amazing what people are not allowed to know before huge debt is put on the public. I wonder what the cost analysis for raising Shasta Dam 18.5 feet will be? Billions of dollars for a hand full of corporations’ benefit, while all Californians will be paying for it and will not get anymore water!”

The committee also approved AB 2422 (B. Berryhill), legislation that requires the Department of Water Resources to conduct a feasibility study of a new in-Delta water storage concept at Sherman Island.

The Committee failed to pass another Delta-related bill, AB 2000 (Huber), that adds requirements to the BDCP process, changing Delta Stewardship Council membership and specifies that remaining bond money for flood control projects shall only be used by DWR for levee improvements. The legislation would require DWR to withdraw from its existing Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the export agencies funding BDCP planning and the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation.

Delta advocates fear that the construction of the peripheral canal or tunnel will hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter and spring run chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail and other imperiled fish species. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is the largest and most significant estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

For information about Restore the Delta, go to http://www.restorethedelta.org.

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