On this fine dry Tuesday, a very important meeting took place at the Santa Clara Valley Water District site on Almaden Expressway in San Jose. Aside from a few miscellaneous business items to take care of, the main topic was the controversial California Delta Tunnel and water plan. The meeting was called the "California Waterfix & EcoRestore" special board workshop. The "tunnel plan" part of the meeting lasted almost three hours and everybody who attended left with a much better understanding of the issues, and a clearer understanding of how much they really don't know. The bottom line; people who are in a position of authority to determine the path this plan takes need to become knowledgable on the facts.
The current Baord of Directors at the meeting included Gary Kremen, Tony Estreemera, Nai Hsueh, Linda leZotte, John Varela, and Chairperson Barbara Keegan. The format of the meeting was to listen to the invited presenters, solicit input from public attendees, and then make remarks on what they have heard.
There were three "invited guests" who gave presentations. Mark Cowin, Director with the California Dept. of Water Resources; David Oksita, Director of Ecosystem Restoration at the California Natural Resources Agency; and Chuck Bonham, Director at the California Cept. of Fish & Wildlife. All three presented information which was for the current Governor Brown "Water Fix" plan. Out of the three, Chuck Bonham was the one presenter who was more closely aligned to the thoughts of the dozens of other people in attendance who were not in favor of the current "Water Fix" plan.
After the three invitees presented their data and views, the public attendees were given the opportunity to speak for a duration of 3 minutes each. For about an hour the public attendees presented to the Board why they should not support the current "Water Fix" plan. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of the Restore the Delta organization, was among the key people providing insite to the Board. Deirdre Des Jardins, from Californa Water Research provided some comments. There were about fifteen other people who provided comments. Their area of expertise ranged from scientist, hydrologist, lawyer, environmentalist, engineer, various California and local committees, conservation organizations, Delta residents, Delta users, and more.
There were several unified comments made by those that were not in support of the current "Water Fix" plan:
- We need the people of California to vote on the plan. This seems to be an "end around" on a topic which has been previously defeated by the voting public.
- The people that will benefit most from this project are the Almond growers in Westland and Kern counties.
- The slides addressed what the water flow into the new pipes would be in years average water years, but does not address the years when there is drought.
- We need more regional self sufficiency; more conservation, and more water saving initiatives in our living environment.
- We need more infrastructure to capture and re-use water.
- We need to focus on levee rebuild and repair and beefing up.
- We need to look seriously into water desalination.
- Very little effort has been spent looking at the alternatives that can be put into place.
- What will be trhe costs upon the rate payers? It is not clear in the proposals.
- Lack of adequete information on the effect on wildlife with current plan.
- California fisheries require water and this plan will impact that.
- The current plan does not satisfy the "Co-Equal" Goals presented as a desired achievement.
- Funding should take place to fix or replace leaky water pipes throughout the state which wastes a significant amount of water.
- The plan lacks a requirment for water re-use.
After all voices were heard, the Board proceeded to individually make comments on the "Water Fix" plan. The Board of Directors mission is to understand the facts of the plan and recommend Santa Clara Counties involvement in the "Water Fix" plan. If they are onboard, then it is one step closer for the plan to be adopted statewide. If they are not onboard, if is one step closer for the plan not to be adopted. Plan adoption requires participation by various regions and authorities. The general impression of the Board was that there seems to be some items not fully specified in the plan and a number of outstanding questions which need to be answered.
Gary Kremen had concerns and questions regarding the finances of the project. What are the effects on the taxpayer? What are the limits? Who will get the water? Will we get our share of the water before others get theirs?
Tony Estremera wanted focus on not only the cost of doing the project but also the cost of not doing the project. He is in favor of voter approval. He is also concerned about any rate payer variations.
Nai Hsueh seemed to be the Board member that was most outwardly for the current plan. She says that cost is an important consideration. Since Santa Clara County received 55% of its water from the Delta, that this plan can't be ignored.
Linda LeZotte was one of the Boared members who seemed to be more against the current than for it. She is concerned about governance issues; who will manage the flow? When is water released? She believes that the Westlands Water District and Kern County will be the dominant users and will get more water. She wanted to know more about the factor of Adaptive Management that was brought up. She was concerned that the 25,000 acres being toughted as wetland restoration really had been established prior to this plan and should not be included as occuring because of this plan. She was concerned that there is too much language in the plan that is "hopeful" think rather than "promises".
John L. Varela expressed that we are stewards of our water resources and have a responsibility to do the right thing. He is concerned that the Board will be making a decision which will affect generations to follow. Because of this, he really wants to make sure that the decision is based on clear accurate information. John seemed to be cautious about the current plan and wants to be more educated before he makes any decision.
Barbara Keegan expressed a lack of certainty with the financial part of the plan and too much of "we will cross that bridge when we get to it" attitude. What will be the cost for urban water users? She is fearful for urban folks subsidizing agricultural water users. She expressed concern for all the environmental factors that were brought up by the public speakers.Adpative management; there are so many variables. How can we get a realistic handle on them? We need to find acurate "causation" with the variable in order to make decisions. How do we make changes based on data? She is concerned that there are areas that have not done nearly as well as Santa Clara County with respect to water conservation and managing various aspects of water. So who will benefit more?
Richard P. Santos provided his view that there is alot of uncertainty in the situation. He is learning he believes the whole Board is undergoing a learning process on this complex issue. He would like to have voters vote on this water proposal.
The Board was unanimous with the comment that before they can make a decision they need to be better educated in the important factors involved with this or any other water plan. That is something they are going to focus on going forward. The next working meeting will take place in March of this year. This should another very interesting meeting and I urge you all to attend.
You can read more about the details of the "Water Fix" plan at the following places: http://restorethedelta.org/blog/, http://restorethedelta.org/, http://www.valleywater.org/, http://www.californiawaterfix.com/, http://resources.ca.gov/ecorestore/.