November 25th, 2013

Getting Our Ducks in a Row


Delta Dialogues participants, gathered at a hunting club on the Rindge Tract outside Stockton, spent their November session doing some hunting of their own, seeking deeper understanding of alternative conveyances and listing their own criteria for BDCP and other Delta plans.Map Button

It was the third straight Delta Dialogues meeting to involve detailed examination of “Multiple Intake Scenarios,” with the diverse group of stakeholders looking at possibilities that might include an intake on the Western Delta and alterations to the BDCP’s proposed intakes in the north of the Delta on the Sacramento River. Some participants also held a phone meeting Nov. 6 to examine aspects of a Western intake, including the impact on the Delta smelt.

The November session of the dialogues, at the Rindge Tract Partners hunting club of Delta landowner and Dialogues participant Tom Zuckerman, felt like an unpromising end and a promising beginning.

The unpromising end came first, with John Cain of American Rivers summing up the phone call and participants appearing to have deeper understanding of why a Western Delta intake would not be a viable alternative (although Zuckerman pointedly said he wasn’t giving up on the idea; a “porous” levee could work and a Western facility might not impact smelt if it’s operated during higher flows, he said).

The promising beginning started in the late morning, and continued into the afternoon – as the conversation switched from the particulars of conveyance alternatives to a conversation about the criteria for Delta plans. The switch was made when facilitators asked about the criteria that drove the BDCP – and what criteria should have governed any such plan and weren’t used.

While the conversation about conveyances hadn’t produced an alternative plan from the Dialogues participants (as some said they had hoped), that conversation seemed to have deepened understanding about what the criteria should be for any Delta plan. Participants listed a variety of criteria, often by listing criteria they didn’t see being met by BDCP: covering the goals of habitat restoration and water supply, limiting the risks that often result from mega-projects, limiting the impact of tunnels on the Delta, considering the Delta as a place with its own interests and needs, trying to find ways to create more water for the Delta’s various stakeholders, and creating greater clarity about terms and governance in the Delta.

The conversation was wide-ranging, and focused particularly on the need to contain risks, perhaps through physical barriers, to the Delta and its economy. Participants said that the alternative criteria they were listing could be brought to bear on BDCP and other Delta plans.

“I really appreciated how the criteria let us focus on what challenges the proposal has,” said Campbell Ingram of the Delta Conservancy, the convener of the Dialogues. “It spotlights a path that might lead to a more acceptable project.”

In response to a conversation about how much agricultural land in the Delta might be lost under the BDCP proposal, participants discussed holding a follow-up meeting, perhaps by phone, before the next regularly scheduled Dialogues session in January. Leo Winternitz of the Nature Conservancy said he thought such a session would be useful, in his view, because comments by North Delta farmer Russell van Loben Sels about the loss of agriculture for habitat were overstated. “It will alleviate some fears and we’ll all come out with a better understanding,” said Winternitz.

Participants also said they could have a sub-group to look at another alternative conveyance, though not in the Western Delta. Instead, they might consider a reduced North Delta diversion in combination with conveyance through the Delta corridor.

Only two more sessions of the dialogues are currently scheduled – for January, and then either February or March – and funding beyond that is uncertain. Participants said they appreciated the Dialogues’ work so far – especially its record to create greater understanding and a record of the path to such understanding – and believe the process could do more, including advancing specific proposals and having more impact on the growing public debate over the BDCP and the Delta’s future.

The challenge for the Dialogues is how to get there.

“I think it’s a good process, but I don’t understand what the result is,” said Winternitz.

“I share Leo’s mystification about how can we take this good will, this willingness to understand… and convert it into something that is real,” said Jason Peltier of Westlands Water District.

Facilitator Kristin Cobble asked participants to be ready to “put on our King Solomon” hats in January and try to figure out “what’s fair for all of us to give and what’s fair for all of us to get.”

Participants said there were other conversations taking place in the Delta, perhaps too many. “I’d be happy to have twice as many meetings with half as many groups,” quipped Zuckerman. Participants also said they’d like to see more participation from government – particularly federal and state agency officials and local county supervisors who are part of the Dialogues, but did not attend November’s session.

Bruce Blodgett of the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau said he was encouraged “that there are alternatives that people are willing to talk about. The more we talk the better it is. It’s the first time we talked about Delta solutions with Delta people.”