Delta Stewardship Council’s comprehensive Delta Plan rounds the bend towards the finish line

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A comprehensive policy blueprint for the beleaguered Delta inched ever nearer towards completion as the Delta Stewardship Council reviewed minor changes of the last draft of the Delta Plan and prepared for the final phases of the planning process.

Over two years in the making, the Delta Plan is the state’s overarching policy blueprint for achieving the mandated coequal goals of “providing a more reliable supply and protecting, restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.”  The Plan is meant to address a multitude of the Delta’s ailments, including flood control, habitat restoration, and reducing the state’s reliance on water from the Delta.  Of the Plan’s 14 policies and 68 recommendations, only the policies are destined to become enforceable regulations.

The focus of the September 13 meeting was to give the Council one last chance to make sure staff had faithfully implemented the directions as given to them before a supplemental EIR and regulations are written and both are circulated for public review.  With only a few changes to be approved – mostly typos, grammatical errors and map boundaries – staff legal counsel Chris Stevens told the Council, “we’ve pretty much got to the point where we think the draft product is in near final form.”

Public comments were light and even included a few compliments for Council staff and the science board.  Council members also praised the hard work of the staff.  “I would like to thank everybody,” said Chair Phil Isenberg.  “We have a ways to go; we are not adopting the Delta Plan yet, but we are certainly putting it in shape where it is as understandable as a complex document can be, honors the statutory mandates to us, and reflects a ton of work by a very dedicated staff which we appreciate a lot.”

Mr. Isenberg noted Executive Officer Joe Grindstaff’s impending retirement at the end of the month and acknowledged his contribution.  “Mr. Grindstaff, you leave behind a legacy and a good slug of it is represented by this Delta Plan,” said Mr. Isenberg.

The Council also moved closer to naming Mr. Grindstaff’s successor; earlier in the meeting, council members met in closed session and afterwards announced they had an extended an employment offer to a candidate and that a formal announcement can be expected soon.

So what’s next for the Delta Plan?  Staff will incorporate the last minor revisions, finalize a supplemental EIR for public review, and prepare a draft package of regulations to begin the rule making process.  The regulations will be reviewed by the Office of Administrative Law to ensure that they are clear, necessary, legally valid and in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

Both the supplemental EIR and the draft regulations will undergo 45-day comment periods that will run concurrently.  After the close of the public comment periods, further changes may need to be made and afterwards final documents prepared.  If all stays on schedule, by April of next year, the Council will certify the EIR, adopt the regulations, and adopt the final Delta Plan.

But even so, the legislative sausage making process won’t be finished even then.  The regulations will have to return to the Office of Administrative Law one last time where they will be submitted to the Secretary of State and published in the California Code of Regulations.  The regulations will likely become effective in early summer of 2013.

After six drafts, numerous hours of deliberation in public, comment periods, public hearings and workshops, Council member Gloria Gray praised the transparency of the process and the stakeholder’s involvement.  “It’s not just our Plan, it really is the stakeholders plan, and I think that’s what we’ve really tried to convey to the public,” said Ms. Gray.

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