Environment & Science

Review panel: Sacramento San Joaquin Bay Delta conservation plan lacks focus, goal, cost millions

On the eastern San Francisco Bay, May 28, 2009.
On the eastern San Francisco Bay, May 28, 2009.
LA Wad/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

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The National Academies of Science panel that’s reviewed conservation plans for the Sacramento San Joaquin Bay Delta says those plans are incomplete, unclear and poorly defined.

The panel reviewed the Bay Delta Conservation Plan – a strategy negotiated by federal and state agencies, water districts and environmentalists to repair the delta ecosystem under federal rules. The plan’s ambitious, influenced by agencies that want to export water to farms and big cities.

It’s also controversial: they propose to change delta water flows with a tunnel or a peripheral canal. Federally-appointed scientists say that too many assumptions and no clear goal make it hard to know whether the conservation plan and that canal will do what they’re intended to do.

"What is missing here is that that science has not been knit together or integrated into some overarching integrated framework that would allow it to be used to much more benefit than simply the science that’s there now," says UC Riverside resource economist Henry Vaux. Vaux chaired the panel.

He says the science underpinning the plan seems sound – but it’s hard to know for sure without a clearly stated purpose.

"It’s really hard to know – you know, Yogi Berra said if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to end up somewhere else," says Vaux. "And it’s kind of that situation here. You can’t know what yard line you’re on if you don’t know which goal you’re going for."

Federal and state officials have spent more than $150 million on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan so far. Most of the delta’s natural habitat is gone.

Regional water managers must balance ecosystem restoration concerns with ensuring adequate water supplies for the state, including Southern California.

Water agencies and the plan’s authors say they’re adding more analysis about the ways Delta planning will affect sensitive species of plants and wildlife, and it’s not fair to judge the plan when it’s not final. Another federally-appointed group of scientists will weigh in soon on those effects. The final conservation plan is scheduled for release next year.