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Ken Vogel Massive tunnel project raises key questions for agriculture, Lodi and the Delta

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Ken Vogel

Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 12:00 am

When the Legislature passed the Delta Reform Act in 2009, we were promised that any projects devised by those in charge of the state's administrative processes would be based on the best available science. We were promised that the process would be inclusive of Delta interests. We were promised that Delta agriculture would be protected and enhanced. We were promised that vested water rights and priorities would be honored and enforced.

We are about to see whether those promises are fulfilled.

Within the next few months, the final Delta plan implementing many provisions of the Delta Reform Act will be adopted by the Delta Stewardship Council. Within the next few months, state and federal administrative agencies, with the participation of the State and Federal Contractors Water Agency, will produce a Bay Delta Conservation Plan that supposedly will provide answers for the Delta.

And yet, many questions remain unanswered.

Why has there been no full cost-benefit analysis of the BDCP to find out how much this is really going to cost? Why does the Delta Plan appear to usurp local governmental land use authority? How can any solution to Delta water problems be proposed before the state adopts water flow and water quality standards necessary for Delta agriculture, Delta aquatic life and Delta-derived drinking water? How can massive tunnels under the Delta, depriving needed water from in-Delta users, be justified? How can Delta levee maintenance — maintenance that provides flood control and protection of public infrastructure — be deemed not feasible?

Worst of all, how can a process be trusted when it is based on a concept that we should expend vast amounts of public and ratepayer money for irreversible changes to the Delta before we know whether those changes will further the co-equal goals of the Delta Reform Act and, at the same time, attain the state's policy of reducing reliance on the Delta for future water supplies?

What is at stake for Lodi, San Joaquin County and the greater Delta is the continued vitality of our economy, our water rights, our safety and our way of life. We understand that we are part of a water system that is based on greater demand than there is supply. But that shouldn't mean that promises made should be broken, or that a water rights priority system that has been relied on by our farmers, industry and homeowners should now be discarded. We know that there can be positive solutions to the problems we have pointed out, particularly about the shortcomings of the BDCP process and the BDCP proposals we have seen (or not seen) thus far. The Delta Protection Commission, made up in large part of local Delta representatives, has adopted an Economic Sustainability Plan for the Delta. That plan points the way for cost-effective solutions to the Delta's economic and water problems.

The Delta Conservancy, which I chair, has produced a strategic plan for implementation of projects and processes which will go a long way to preserving and enhancing the Delta's economy and environment.

But there are even more specific positive answers to our concerns. Recently, State Sen. Lois Wolk held a hearing to receive reports on our grassroots efforts to develop near-term projects that would protect and enhance our Delta.

Three coalitions of stakeholders, including the five Delta Counties, have been working for months, and in San Joaquin County's case, years to develop lists of projects that are cost effective and protective of the Delta, projects that can be done now and lessen the need for massive, costly, irreversible projects that may do nothing to protect the Delta. These coalitions include most of the contending parties in our water wars and we have begun to build a basis of trust and understanding.

These projects can be the model of success for the Delta. We will be working with our urban, agriculture and environmental colleagues, our state and federal legislators and administrative agencies and our local communities to remove barriers to the development of these projects and to fund their successful implementation.

This is the best chance we may have to date to seek solutions to the Delta's problems.

Finally, the projects being considered by the BDCP that will dramatically affect the livelihood of our Delta region should be voted on by the citizens of California as well as our state Legislature. The legislation of 2009 does not require either vote.

Ken Vogel represents the Lodi area on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

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