On Thursday, the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) voted on proposed amendments to the Delta Plan. They approved the amendments nearly unanimously, much to the dismay of Delta residents in attendance. The one dissenting vote came from Solano County District 5 Supervisor Skip Thomson.
According to California Water Code § 85304, “The Delta Plan shall promote options for new and improved infrastructure relating to the water conveyance in the Delta, storage systems, and for the operation of both to achieve the coequal goals.” This recent DSC vote speaks to that section after 24 months of deliberation.
At its June 25, 2015 meeting, two years ago today, the DSC began this amendment process of promoting options for conveyance, storage systems, and for the operation of both (CSO). After numerous discussions of scientific study and public comment from those closely affected, some are troubled by the motivation of the DSC.
“The Council has confused the public about the implications of its decision,” said Osha Meserve, attorney for Local Agencies of the North Delta. “While the Council has characterized the amendments as necessary to keep the Delta Plan up to date, the amendments appear designed to placate the mega-water agencies gunning for the Delta Tunnels project.”
Farmers and other residents of the Delta have long been concerned that the bureaucratic process is merely a performance to give the impression of a fair consideration of their local concerns. Some, like Thomson, argue the CSO amendment fails to focus on increased regional self-reliance and decreased reliance on the Delta. But the DSC as a whole rebuts that argument, citing over 22 references to reducing reliance on the Delta and ten references to improving regional self-reliance in the draft language.
The DSC also contests the notion that the process is wholly performative, offering that staff made several revisions to the CSO amendment to address concerns of potential impacts to the “Delta as a Place,” as well as groundwater supply, water quality, and legacy communities. These attempts didn't go unnoticed, but community and environmental groups like Restore the Delta (RTD) see consideration as a starting point, not the end of the issue.
In response to the CSO amendment, RTD released a statement. It reads in part, “Although the Council has taken into consideration Restore the Delta and Delta communities' concerns about new conveyance threatening access to clean drinking water and irrigation water for the Delta prime farmland, as well as fishing and water-contact use, the conveyance and storage amendments do nothing to actually require that local water uses be protected.”
RTD echoes the concerns of many in the northern part of the state that interests to the south are given greater value. “This reduces local water supply reliability for the benefit of areas hundreds of miles away that have failed to manage their local water supplies.”
Some both inside and outside the debate suggest this is simple regional politics or an urban-versus-rural dynamic at work. But others reject the public divisiveness and support the idea that every Californian should have access to a fair share of clean drinking water without stretching that access to be privately commodified by the few to the detriment of the many.