May 5, 2012 - California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird announced Friday that the release of a controversial state-federal plan to build a peripheral canal or tunnel will be delayed.
In a May 3 letter to David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Laird said the state "will not be ready" to release public review drafts of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its environmental impact report/statement at the end of June, as originally expected.
Laird did not directly explain the reason for the delay, but said, "The fish and wildlife agencies are currently reviewing and responding to a substantially improved scientific analysis of habitat restoration, water flows, and other ecological measures to achieve regulatory standards of the federal Endangered Species Act and Natural Community Conservation Planning Act. As a result, we anticipate that we will soon be able to announce some significant adjustments in the overall program that will reflect our commitment to using the best science."
Laird noted that the delay "should not interfere in any way with our preparations for a public announcement of the key elements of a framework for the proposed project with the Governor and Secretary Salazar in mid-to-late July."
Laird did not say exactly when the delayed documents will be released. However, a letter from Terry Rogers at the Kern County Water Agency to John Laird stated, "We understand from DWR reports that the June 29, 2012 deadline for release of the public draft of the BDCP will be missed and that the earliest possible release date is now Septemeber 10, 2012."
Richard Stapler, Deputy Secretary for Communications for the Natural Resources Agency, said, "We do not have a firm date as of yet. However, it will likely be toward the end of the summer or very early fall."
He also further explained the reason behind the delay. "As you know, the BDCP itself and the EIR/EIS are massive," he stated. "As we're working to refine it, running revised data sets and calculations is extremely time-consuming. In addition, we are undertaking a study of cultural and archeological artifacts in the Delta."
Terry Erlewine, General Manager of the State Water Contractors, issued a statement expressing the contractors' displeasure with the delay.
"The public water agencies that are funding the development of the BDCP and the environmental review are extremely concerned over the anticipated delay," said Erlewine. "Public water agencies have invested $150 million into the planning, development and scientific analysis for the BDCP throughout the past six years and over the course of 300 public meetings."
"These public water agencies are calling on the state and federal governments to take the action needed to protect the water supply for 25 million Californians, farms and businesses throughout the state and the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta. The longer the state and federal governments drag this process out, the greater the risk to our water supply," Erlewine stated.
Bruce Tokars of Salmon Water Now (http://salmonwaternow.org) wasn't impressed with the delay at all - and criticized the very purpose of the BDCP - to build "conveyance" to export more Delta water to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
"If their plan reflected a commitment to the best science, or common sense, they wouldn't build the new 'conveyance' at all, and there would be no need for a BDCP," said Tokars. "The state would be much better served by prioritizing Delta levee repair, water conservation, and better groundwater management while retiring toxin-leaching farmland on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley."
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (http://www.restorethedelta.org), said, "Delaying the BDCP is directly related to the election. Now is not the the time for the people of the Delta to let down their guard."
A coalition of Delta residents, Indian Tribes, fishermen, family farmers and grassroots environmentalists opposes the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnel because they believe it would lead to the destruction of the Delta ecosystem, fish and farms. The construction of the canal is expected to hasten the extinction of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species, according to both agency and independent scientists.
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