REGION — The San Diego County Water Authority is working on evaluating the latest plan aiming to fix the ailing Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, a major source of water for San Diego County and the entire state of California.
Located east of San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta provides water for 25 million Californians throughout the state.
Though San Diego County also obtains water from local sources and the Colorado River, the Bay-Delta remains a critical source of water. Over the past five years, the Bay-Delta provided 20 percent of San Diego County’s water supply, according to the San Diego County Water Authority.
“It’s kind of the hub of all water supply for the whole state,” explained Richard Atwater, executive director of the Southern California Water Committee.
For years the Bay-Delta has been afflicted by environmental, structural and water supply problems, which among other impacts has resulted in a decline of its water supply reliability.
Atwater said that the Delta and its water delivery infrastructure are susceptible to a myriad of destructive events including a massive earthquake.
He said that if the water supply from the Bay Delta was cut off for any reason, it would have a “catastrophic effect” on the state’s economy.
“We can’t afford to do nothing,” he said.
“The (San Diego County) Water Authority believes that something needs to be done to preserve the water supply and the ecosystem in the Bay Delta,” said Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority.
In 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act, which was designed to reform water policies and launch plans to restore the Bay Delta.
Consequently, water agencies, environmental and conservation organizations, state and federal agencies, and other groups have collaborated to develop the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).
The latest BDCP administrative draft proposes a series of alternatives that center around a 50-year permit to build a new conveyance system in the north Bay Delta, construct three new intakes, insert two tunnels that would transfer water to the existing plants in the south Bay Delta, and implement conservation measures to protect the Bay Delta’s endangered species.
The entire 50-year implementation of the plan would cost about $24.5 billion to be paid for by water consumers throughout the state.
The official draft of the BDCP and its environmental review are expected to be released in October this year so that state and federal authorities, as well as local agencies can submit formal comments on the plan.
State officials intend on making a decision on the plan in spring 2014.
A panel of experts discussed the proposed BDCP at length on Aug. 15 at the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce in the hopes of better informing local officials about the issues concerning the Bay Delta.
Staff and city council members from cities throughout North County, including Carlsbad’s Councilmember Lorraine Wood, attended the discussion.
While the panelists, which included Atwater and Cushman, agreed that the state of the Bay Delta is in decline and needs to be improved in order to secure southern California’s water supply, not everyone was ready to endorse the BDCP.
Cushman said that through water conservation programs and expanding local water sources, San Diego County has reduced its reliance on water supply from the Bay Delta.
The San Diego County Water Authority reduced its water purchase from the Metropolitan water District of Southern California, which sources its water from the Bay Delta, by 66 percent over the past two decades.
Still, the Bay Delta will continue to supply a significant amount of the County’s imported water.
As a result, the San Diego County Water Authority is currently analyzing the range of alternatives proposed for fixing the Bay Delta to establish which plan is the most practical and affordable assurance of reliable water supply, said Cushman.
He said that the Water Authority still has concerns about the BDCP’s proposal.
“Nobody has quantified what the financial impact will be and nobody has quantified what the water supply reliability will be,” he said.
The San Diego Water Authority is still collecting information about the BDCP and other plans as it is available before officially endorsing a specific alternative.
The San Diego Water Authority Board of Directors intends on endorsing an alternative and submitting a formal comment letter on the BDCP in November, according to a July 25 press release.