Jerry Meral and Jonas Minton debate the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

debateAt the September 18th meeting of the Harry S. Truman Democratic Club in Sacramento, the program featured former Deputy Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency Jerry Meral and the Planning and Conservation League’s Jonas Minton debating the Bay Delta Conservation Plan in a lively back and forth moderated by Lisa Buetler, the Executive Facilitator for the California Water Plan.  Here’s what they had to say.

(Note: The following is a transcript of the event.)

Introductions by the Host: This is the crème de la crème of water policy. Today we’ve got Jerry Meral and Jonas Minton with Lisa Buetler moderating. Jerry was, until recently, Governor Brown’s top water official, and had a major say in a lot of policies that came out of the Brown Administration; he is widely regarded as one of California’s most accomplished preservationists. Jonas Minton is the water policy advisor for the Planning and Conservation League; he’s previously served in California as the Deputy Director for the Department of Water Resources, and chaired the state’s desalination task force. Our moderator Lisa Beutler, has been an executive facilitator for the California Water Plan, she was formerly with the Center for Collaborative Policy and as you know, there’s been probably thousands of conversations between stakeholders to try to arrive at a consensus of what makes sound policy.

LISA BEUTLER: The order of the presentation will be some opening remarks by Jerry. He’s going to lay out the issue and the process for our most current civil war; we’ve had plenty of them. Many of you may have been involved in some of them in the past, and we have a current one that Jerry will dive into for a little bit. I want to note that these are long time warriors; this is not their first battle. Any of you enjoyed river rafting in California? You can thank these guys; these guys were on the front lines of saving some of our most pristine rivers in California, if you would please thank them for that effort … (applause) …
It’s interesting now today that they are on a different side of the fight, because they have been companions and been side by side as they move forward, and today they’re in a slightly different place.
After Jerry does his opening remarks, Jonas will explain to you why he thinks they are wrong, and then Jerry will tell you why he thinks Jonas is wrong, and we’ll go back and forth for a little bit and then we’ll open up the floor for questions.
So with that …

Jerry Meral …

Good afternoon everyone, thank you for coming. … Today, we’re talking about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and I want to explain briefly what it is, why it’s good, and maybe more importantly, why it’s likely to succeed.

The BDCP is a habitat conservation plan. We have one in Natomas; there’s a habitat conservation plan out in Natomas that has had its ups and downs, but I think has been pretty successful overall. The goal of a habitat conservation plan is for the government or the developer to comply with the state and federal endangered species acts. There is a state and a federal process that are pretty parallel.

In this particular plan, the BDCP, we’re talking about the Delta – several hundred thousand acres of land, water, varieties of habitat, and 56 species that are of concern to the state and federal government – aquatic species, insects, birds, mammals, and so son. There are a variety of different plants and animals in the Delta that need to be enhanced and preserved.

The plan was developed because there was no overall plan to protect the habitat in the Delta and to chart a course for future water development. The two in the Delta are inextricably tied together. Anything that affects habitat is going to affect to some extent the water supply. The Delta is a really important place from the state water perspective. About 20% of our state’s water supply comes from the Delta. Now, other than some local farmers, no one in Sacramento County and not many in Yolo are really affected by the Delta water supply. It’s downstream from here, but it’s of great interest. If you’ve seen all the tunnel signs around, you know there’s a lot of interest in this particular question.

This is a lot of water. About roughly 5 MAF of water comes out of the Delta; that’s enough for 10 million households or maybe most of the state’s population, so it’s a huge amount of water. It goes from the Delta to the Bay Area, to Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, it goes down into the Central Valley for irrigation, and then it supplies all of urban Southern California. It’s not the total water supply for Southern California, but it’s a large share, about 1/3.

The conservation plan has a lot of different conservation actions to try and protect and bring back the species that are out in the Delta. And some of these, for example, would be stopping poaching of some of the really valuable commercial species like sturgeon and salmon, or improving habitat, creating new wetlands, creating new upland habitat for plants and animals and try to provide some habitat that they can recover their population. But one of the features and certainly the most controversial feature is a change in the way we divert water from the Delta today.

If you’ve ever been down to Tracy, you can see the huge state and federal water pumps that pump the water to the areas I just describe – the Bay Area, the valley and Southern California. Those pumps are also bad for the fish. They entrain fish, so fish get stuck in the channels, they are sucked down to the pumps, they are killed or exported to Southern California – a bad thing. There are regulations to control this, but they also impact the state’s water supply because they regulate the amount of water you can extract from the Delta, so something that’s been on the agenda for a very long time is a change in the way water is diverted from the Delta. This particular plan proposes two tunnels that would be about 35 feet wide each; they would export the water starting just south of Clarksburg. There would be intakes along the Sacramento River, and that water would be diverted at certain times of the year, down to the pumps and then to Southern California. Only about half the water would be diverted there; the other half would be diverted in the South Delta.

The tunnels are a replacement for the old peripheral canal, some of you may remember that. It was defeated by the voters way back when in the 70s, but the need has not gone away. I’d like to describe a little bit for you some of the needs.

I doubt in this room we have a lot of climate change deniers. Somehow I suspect many of you bought into the idea that we are having problems with our climate. One of the inexorable results of climate change is sea level rise. We have it today, so we can see sea level rise happening at the Golden Gate, actually at the right tide level, you can see it at the I Street Bridge. It’s happening. How much is it going to be? Well, we don’t really know. Greenland going to melt, as is the Antarctica sheet and so on – that may be coming but most people think during this century, we’re probably looking at something like three to at the most, 5 feet of sea level rise.

The trouble is the Delta is a series of islands – agricultural islands that are protected by dirt levees. The levees work sometimes; most of them have failed at one time or another, but it’s generally accepted that they cannot withstand a sea level rise of 3 feet. The cost to upgrade them to be able to withstand that kind of sea level rise would be more than any person could reasonably expect to spend. It would be multi many, many billions of dollars, probably wouldn’t work anyway, so the Delta is challenged by sea level rise, but not all the islands. Some of the islands probably can survive that, some of them in the Central Delta can’t.

When a Delta levee fails, sea water comes into the Delta. It fills up the hole where the island is because the islands have subsided. Most of the Delta islands are anywhere from a few to as much 20 or more feet below sea level. So if a levee breaks, the ocean comes into fill that space. When that happens, the Delta channels become salty, and it’s impossible to export water to the Bay Area, the valley, and Southern California.

This actually happened. Some of you may remember, Anderson-Brannan Island failed in the 1970s, seawater came in and exports had to be curtailed. So having the tunnels is not only part of a fish protection program, because it would in fact improve the way water is diverted from the point of view of the fish, but also a disaster protection program because those disasters have and will happen again, and more frequently as the climate changes.

The need for this program is generally recognized, I would say. Politically, I would say in Southern California, you’d be hard pressed to find an elected official who thinks this is a bad idea. It’s uniformly embraced down there, and I think in the Central Valley, pretty much from Fresno south, the political leaders, the water district, the counties and so on, all see the need because they are very reliant on this water supply.

But in this area, especially in the Delta region, there is a lot of resistance because of fear that somehow the water supply will be cut off by these giant tunnels and that the farmers won’t get the water they need to irrigate, and that in fact, this might hurt fish and wildlife instead of helping it.

Where we are in this program is that an Environmental Impact Statement and Plan are on the street, they are on the internet, about 40,000 pages worth. Comments have been filed; there will be a recirculation of some of those documents. Probably sometime next year, the federal agencies and state agencies, the fish agencies who have to approve this or not approve it, will make a decision do they want to approve it or not. They have a lot of internal process to go through, we can go into that, but it’s generally thought they will be able to pretty much finish up the process this year, or at the worst, the following year.

Politically, this process and this program have broad political support. Most state office holders are in favor of it, certainly the statewide ones. Mr. Kashkari has questioned it which gives me another reason to think it’s probably okay, but again, in this region, if you were to get up and say this is a great program, I want these tunnels to proceed, you’d probably be subject to at least defeat, if not recall. This is very controversial in this area. Later on, in the question period we can go through why that is, what the dangers are; maybe Jonas will talk about that to the region, and why I think they can be mitigated.

Jonas Minton …

So if it’s such a great idea, why don’t they just roll us? There aren’t that many people in Northern California; there are only a few people living in the Delta – why hasn’t this happened? Let me add another group that’s influential in this, and that’s the water districts that would have to pay for the construction costs. Now there are some other costs that added tens of billions of dollars, but just to build the thing, the most recent estimate is about $16 billion.

That money would come from large water districts. We can name them: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, an urban district that needs a reliable water supply; they are worried about levees failing. Westlands Water District – about 600,000 acres of agriculture on the west side of the valley, west of Fresno. Kern County Water Agency in Kern County, and to some extent, Santa Clara Water District as well. They are key decision makers in this.

Eight years ago, when this iteration of a peripheral something came up, here’s how it was sold. You can remember these numbers. It was going to cost less than $4 billion, and it was going to provide those water districts an additional 1 MAF a year on average. A million acre-feet is how much Folsom holds when it’s absolutely full. $4 billion, 1 MAF. If you’re a water district, and I had the opportunity to be a manager of one to the east of here, that pencils out. I can make a business case for that.

Eight years later, the project cost is $16 billion, and remember there’s interest on that, so that compounds it. $16 billion and no guarantee of one drop more water. What’s happened in that 8 years? The water districts have fronted a quarter of a billion dollars for planning money. As Jerry pointed out, one of the tangible results are 40,000 pages of an EIR/EIS. Just released.

Many people have questioned the validity of that; I’m not going to use our wording or the wording of people in the Delta. I’ll give you three brief excerpts of what the US EPA said verbatim: ‘Data and other information provided in the draft EIS indicate that all CM1 (that’s the tunnel) alternatives may contribute to declining populations of Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, and winter run, spring run, fall run and late fall run Chinook salmon.’ Their comments include ‘the draft EIS indicates that CM1 (the tunnels) would not protect beneficial uses for aquatic life, thereby violating the Clean Water Act,’ and they have some jurisdiction over that.

OK, what’s this all about? What’s the real beef here? It is how much water gets to be pumped out of the Delta. Again, if you’re one of those water districts and you’re asked to put up billions of dollars, what do you get for it?

There are two classes of water districts: Met and Santa Clara. The value of an insurance policy to them is greater; they have billions, probably over trillion dollars of economy, and are worried about the levees that Jerry mentioned. The ag districts, who are expected to pay as much as 2/3rds, 3/4ths of the cost, a little bit different calculation. Think about it. Westlands Water District this year only has enough water to irrigate half their acreage. Yet they are being asked long-term to put up four or five billion dollars on a project that might come online in 15 years, and might or might not provide them any more water at all.

Now here’s where the crunch is coming in. As I said, they’ve fronted a quarter of a billion dollars collectively. The state has said, oops we now have to redo that EIR/EIS, and we have a lot of other pre-development costs. About 1.2 billion, not to turn a shovel of dirt. So the question over the next six months is going to be, will those water districts put that money up to keep the process going? That’s the live question before the policy makers who, in this case, are the water district board of directors in places like Fresno, Bakersfield, and Los Angeles.

Lisa Buetler: So Jerry, you’ve had a chance to hear some of the concerns that Jonas has raised. He’s talked about price, he’s talked about the effectiveness of the EIR – what kinds of concerns do you have with the questions he’s raised?

Jerry Meral …

Those are perfectly valid concerns. If you’re on the board of directors at Metropolitan Water District or the Westlands Water District, and you’re being asked to come up with collectively $16 billion, you would like to know that you’re going to get something out of it. And in fact, there’s not going to be a huge increase in the water supply. Now that may be a message of comfort for you. That is you in the Sacramento area, because in fact there isn’t going to be a lot of export of new water from the Delta because the fish require a lot, because climate is going to impact the supply and so on.

However, if we do nothing, which is one way to go, then the water supply for all those agencies is going to decline pretty dramatically. Probably something like 5 MAF right now to maybe 3 MAF in 15-20 years with climate change. So the question is not so much can we get more water out of it; the question is can we keep something like what we’ve got. That’s always a harder sell – if you’re on a board of directors, please cough up $3-$4 billion just to keep what you’ve got, but if you’re faced with a big loss, it may be a worthwhile investment.

In any case, all these people are either appointed or elected by their various constituencies; they’ll have to make that choice. They could say no. They might say, fine, ok, we can’t afford it; sorry, we’re going to lose a lot of water, that’s a decision for them to make. The state decision and the federal decision is does this project adequately protect the environment? Are the fish species that Jonas mentioned going to in fact be damaged the way EPA is concerned about, or in the opinion of the fish agencies, will they be improved? And the permit will never issue unless those fish agencies can say that they’ll be improved. They have to come up with that finding; at least at the state level, they have to show some level of improvement.

Now I can guarantee you that if the state Department of Fish and Wildlife says ‘we’ve studied this, we’ve changed the project, we’ve done this and done that, and we’ve decided that the fish will be improved,’ you will instantly hear from the opposition in the Delta how they’ve sold out, how their biology is inadequate, and so on and so forth. This project will never be accepted in the Delta, even if it could be shown to turn water into gold, it’s just not going to happen.

But the ultimate decision lies with the fish agencies, state and federal, and the Corps of Engineers, which is in fact somewhat regulated by the US EPA, so all those agencies have to approve it, or this project won’t happen.

Lisa Buetler: So Jonas, Jerry has pointed out that there are some problems and different kinds of things, but he’s also raised the idea that the risk of not moving forward could be quite significant. What are the alternatives to not moving forward? How do you see failure to take action playing out?

Jonas Minton …

Let me first address the operations of the project. I will concede right now, today, the 18th at 12:35 that Jerry Meral had the keys for eternity to those tunnels, I’d be okay with it. That ain’t going to happen. The only way water districts are going to spend at least $16 billion, keep in mind, I think that’s less than 30% design for those of you who do projects, less than 30% design, do you think it’s going to stay within $16 billion?

Even $16 billion, the only way they are going to front that money is if they think they have significant control, now or in the foreseeable future, over the project. Hey, there’s an election coming up. You’re Democrats. I’m a Democrat, too. We don’t have the House. Hopefully we have the Senate. Someday we may have that trifecta against us again with appointees who will roll us, roll the environment, roll the people in Northern California. You build that infrastructure and ….

Here are some other things that you have to look under the hood for. Even if they build the tunnels, on average, about half of the water would still be diverted from the south Delta. It would have to go past those fragile Delta islands, to the extent they are fragile. So already you have to invest that money if you’re going to protect the water supply. You have to shore up those levees. The state has been working on that for a number of years. When Jerry was deputy director, investing in those things, there’s a proposition on the ballot in November that has more money to shore up those levees. There are things you can do.

This, how would I say – right now this dog don’t hunt. It just doesn’t work. The operations – it’s defined as well, in the future, based on what we learn, we’ll figure out how we’ll operate it. That does not give environmentalists comfort, it doesn’t give water agencies in Northern California credit that their water won’t be sucked from them, it doesn’t give the water districts who would get the water sufficient comfort, and so I just don’t think it’s coming together, there’s got to be some reformulation along the way.

Lisa Buetler: So Jonas, help us understand. Do you think no action is a viable alternative, or are you saying something needs to happen – it’s just not this particular hunting dog … ?

Jonas Minton …

The state has not been sitting around. Again, when Jerry was deputy director of Department of Water Resources, he championed water conservation programs under Director Ron Robie. Water recycling and a lot of storage have been going on in the past 10 or 20 years; it’s not acknowledged. Groundwater storage, now we have groundwater management laws that are going to be implemented, so it isn’t as though the state isn’t’ doing things, that they are waiting around. They are making their investments, they are voting with their ratepayers money on projects that work for them. There are habitat improvement projects that have been started in the Delta. A lot more can and will be done, so there’s a lot that’s going on. Yes we need to figure out what to do.

EPA, here’s their assessment of what you need for the Delta’s health. I’m not talking about the water supply reliability, which we’ve addressed earlier, but their belief, based on the preponderance of scientific evidence, is that the Delta – remember it’s an estuary where fresh water and salt water mix. Over the last 30 years since the peripheral canal, less fresh water has gone in, and less has gone out. Their conclusion is that in addition to other things, one of the things the Delta needs is more, not less, fresh water. And how do we find a way to make that happen is the challenge.

Lisa Buetler: So Jerry, what are your thoughts about what Jonas has put on the table?

Jerry Meral …

I think we should recognize that this will be a project, if it goes forward, has more permits than Carter has liver pills, if you can remember that. The EPA would have the right to veto the project. If their comments reflect an undying opposition to this project, they have the statutory right, under the Clean Water Act, to veto it, so it will never happen if EPA really thinks it’s bad. Similarly, the Corps of Engineers. Fish and Wildlife Service. National Marine Fisheries Service. Even the state flood control agency, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, they all have to say yes. Any one of them can kill this project, and so if they don’t like it for any reason, Jonas’s reasons or other reasons, it’s dead.

They will eventually have to get to the point that it will improve the environment, it will improve the water supply, or it just won’t get approved. I don’t deny the comments by the EPA and comments from dozens of different agencies around the state, raising questions and criticisms. Those have to be addressed, but the project eventually will live or die on the approval of all of these state and federal environmental and regulatory agencies, and that’s going to be the bottom line for the project.

Lisa Beutler: We’ll go ahead and open it up to the floor to take some questions … I do want to throw out a number, so people hear numbers like $4 billion, $16 billion, those kinds of numbers, and I think that speaks to how we undervalue water, so just to give you a comparable, they’ll spend next year about $9 billion annually on the prison system in California, so as you’re thinking about the numbers that you’re hearing, please put those into context. ….

Discussion highlights/excerpts …

Jerry Meral …

Question: In response to a question/comment that I was unable to transcribe due to poor audio, but was later provided to me by the questioner, Steve Hopcraft of Restore the Delta:  “Jerry greenwashes this horrible Peripheral Tunnels, which are the Peripheral Canal, but underground. If you want to know more about what’s wrong with this project go to restorethedelta.org. The first “conservation measure” of this horrible project is to build the tunnels. If any of us woke up today and looked around at the fact that we have no water, why would we say that the first thing we should do is spend almost $60 billion to build water export tunnels? Why would we not reduce the amount of water we’re exporting from the Delta to send to the Westlands Water District?”

: “I’m glad you mentioned Restore the Delta. I would encourage you to look at their website, too. That’s the leading opposition group. They are funded by, in part, Mr. Cortopassi, a good friend and supporter of the Koch brothers, and you’ve got to realize, people in the Delta, the farmers in the Delta, have very good water rights, and it would be the end of their business if they lose those water rights. They are afraid, Mr. Cortopassi and everybody else down there, the farmers, that these tunnels will divert the water that they have a right to, that somehow the Governor will give them that right or whatever. That has never happened; there’s a contract with most of the Delta that is prevented that from happening, it’s not going to happen. But they are vociferous opponents and always will be to this project.

Despite the fact that they are in fact the ones that have caused the subsidence in the Delta islands due to agricultural practices that threaten the water supply and the fish and so on, but this isn’t going to change. Either they will have to be further guaranteed their rights, ideally through contracts that half the Delta currently has a good contract for, or they’ll have to fight the project in the courts or in the ballot or whatever, but it’s just not going to change. But don’t be deceived to think that Restore the Delta is an environmental group. It’s funded by the Delta farmers, represents their interests, they are opposed to habitat restoration, and they are worthy opponents, but they are not representing the interests of most people in the state.

Jonas Minton …

What about alternatives that exist? Lisa, I happen to know, facilitates the development of the state water plan that’s done every five years, and it has identified millions of acre-feet of potential additional water conservation, water recycling, and stormwater capture. Those are things that we and some business groups and other environmental groups have put forth and said, here’s an alternative that should be looked at. It’s actually included in the EPA comments. I was surprised that they called that one out as an example of alternatives.

Let’s just think about it. Right now if they built the tunnels, if they were in place, they really couldn’t divert. There’s not enough water. And that’s one of the things that of course farmers are going to look at, so what are the more drought-proof supplies that make better sense to invest in? And I think that’s what we’re looking at as well.

Question: Jonas, as you opposed to tunnels in general, or just this tunnel? And I’d like both gentlemen to address the costs of inaction.

Jonas Minton …

We actually suggested a smaller tunnel be analyzed equally with the larger tunnel, try and optimize it, but unfortunately, the water districts didn’t allow that to be included in the EIR/EIS. I don’t know if it would work, but it seems like something smaller that could meet critical needs if there are loss of Delta islands, levees, would make sense. What are the costs of inaction? Depends on what happens. We know that levees will fail in the Delta. Without a doubt, every island has had levee failures in the past, and they’ll fail in the future. As I mentioned, key levees, which we’ve been working with parties to identify, need to be strengthened in any event because half the water is still going to be pumped out of the south Delta.

Jerry Meral …

If the Delta levees failed in an earthquake, which is the most likely reason they would fail in a massive way – it will happen, we’ve had earthquakes out there before, it will happen again. The University of California estimated the cost to the state’s economy would be $10 billion a year and about 141,000 job lost, and that’s per year until you fix the levees. You don’t have a water supply until you fix them, and that probably would take about 10 years, so something in that order.

Question: Can any of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the non-controversial parts of it, go forward without the tunnels or are they inextricably tied?

Jerry Meral …

All of the conservation measures – there are 22 conservation measures and the tunnels are only one of them – [the other conservation measures] could go forward as soon as the legislature appropriated the money to do so. The water districts have put out a lot of money and are continuing to spend a lot of money in compliance with the current endangered species regulations. They are doing that, but you could have the other parts of it. You would not fix the water supply ultimately, because you have no other way to move water through the Delta other than what we have today, but it’s more likely that the legislature would spend all this money in the Delta if they felt it was addressing needs throughout the state, not just in the Delta region, and that’s part of a driver to get the whole package paid for.

Jonas Minton …

Let me add that even without a decision on the tunnels, the legislature almost unanimously … put the water bond on the ballot. That is not tied to the tunnels; it doesn’t require them, there’s no single or double joining, so many of those projects are going to help the Delta, with projects within the Delta as well as financing projects outside the Delta that will reduce other area’s reliance on the Delta. It doesn’t do everything, but it is a significant down payment.

Question: You both seem to agree that the project is primarily reliability project; it’s not really adding supply but providing greater reliability, but the argument that most of us in Northern California unite around, even though we don’t unite around a whole lot, is that it’s primarily reliability for Southern California and the southern Central Valley, not really doing anything for reliability for Northern California, and unlike the water bond you reference where there were benefits throughout the state, it’s hard to see any benefits in the north part of the state. Could you comment on that?

Jerry Meral …

I guess it depends where you think Northern California starts. If you’re up in the state of Jefferson, you figure it starts around Weed … so northern Contra Costa County, Contra Costa Water District, is 100% reliant on the Delta for water supply. If the Delta goes out, they have no water supply which is why they built the Los Vaqueros reservoir to get through a situation like that. The Alameda County Zone 7, Livermore-Pleasanton – 80% of their water comes from the Delta, and Silicon Valley, it’s about 40%, or in a year like this, 60% of their water comes from the Delta. I don’t know if you count them as part of Northern California, but they are vitally dependent on the Delta as a water supply. If it goes out, Santa Clara County will go into 50% rationing the next day, and it will stay that way for up to 10 years. Now, the economic impact of 50% rationing in the heart of the economic engine in the state of California, well they may survive that okay but you won’t see a lot of new businesses moving in down there, you can be sure of that. So I think at least in the Bay Area, there is a real need for this kind of reliability.

In the Sacramento Valley, you are north of the Delta. Why would you care? It doesn’t affect your water supply. Some people think it does, but I think we could all agree that it doesn’t, but it doesn’t hurt anyone and there are people in Northern California who do want to see greater reliability in the Delta, because a lot of them sell water into the San Joaquin Valley, the Yuba County Water Agency for years has sold a lot of water into the Central Valley, they need Delta reliability and they’ve quietly supported the project. So it doesn’t affect anybody negatively here, but in the Bay Area, which I do think is part of California, I do think it’s pretty important.

Jonas Minton …

Let me respectfully disagree with Jerry on one point. And I’ll use Sacramento as an example. I had the opportunity to work for a year for the Bureau of Reclamation that operates Folsom Dam; I also had the opportunity to work with the Sacramento Water Forum that negotiated an agreement for how we would wisely steward the resources of the American River for both planned development and the environmental value. What’s the closest big reservoir to the Delta? Folsom. What happens if there’s a big high tide in the Delta and they need to get some water down there right away to repel salt? It takes too long to get from Shasta and Oroville, so Folsom, which is one of this area’s major water supplies, is inextricably linked to the state water system. One of the criticisms, the critiques in the EPA write up was that EIR/EIS did not look at those impacts sufficiently, and so I think there is a real risk. When something happens in the Delta, it goes straight to Folsom.

Jerry Meral …

That’s true today, but it isn’t the future condition, but that’s true today.

Question: I have a question specifically for Jerry, and this is acknowledging that you are justifiably a well respected environmentalist and somebody many of us have looked up to. … As somebody who has represented the environmental community so strongly for so long, why is it so black and white? Why is there not a bunch of shades of gray that are being explored, and how is it that the only solution is to build two enormous tunnels? How is that this is the only way, maybe I’m misunderstanding ….

Jerry Meral …

From an environmental point of view, the tunnels are not the key part of the plan by any means. The tunnels are about reliability and it will improve the way the water flows with respect to the fish, but I would not get up and tell you that the reason to support this plan from an environmental perspective just because of the tunnels. We do have one fifth of the state water supply hanging in the balance here, and there have been compromises. Originally the old peripheral canal was going to be 25,000 cfs per second of water going to the peripheral canal, which is a very large amount of water. Now the tunnel capacity’s been cut to 9,000 cfs in part to respect people who thought it was too big, so it’s been cut down a lot, but that real reason to support the plan from an environmental perspective, are the 56 species that are of concern. Now Jonas mentioned some of the fish species that are still in dispute. Will this plan with all of its elements really improve those fish species or not? That’s a matter of hot debate, but there’s no debate about the other 51 species. Everyone who’s examined this has agreed that there will be 51 species that will either listed as endangered or rare or threatened that will be improved by the plan. And frankly from an environmental point of view, biodiversity is one of our top priorities. And so if this plan only improved these 51 species and didn’t harm the other ones, it would still be a huge plus, a huge benefit going forward. Going to the question the other gentleman asked, can we get the money for that, and sort of forget the tunnels, which I think a lot of people would like to do? Well maybe, but I kind of doubt it. We need a statewide support for this overall program to spend all this money, so I think from an environmentalist point of view, improving the species is really worth the game here.

Note: A special thank you to Lisa Buetler for facilitating the recording of this event, making this coverage possible.

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