The first step toward a sweeping overhaul of environmental restoration efforts in the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that would provide up to $60 million for various projects and studies over the next two years was ratified by Metropolitan Water District's Board of Directors.
A key element of a proposed agreement is the development of voluntary habitat conservation plans for the recovery of listed and endangered species in the Bay-Delta watershed that would help provide regulatory assurances for water delivery projects over the next 40 years. The largest estuary on the West Coast, the Bay-Delta is an important drinking water source for Metropolitan and 18 million Southern Californians.
Metropolitan's board endorsed the principles of an agreement that refocuses the environmental restoration efforts under CALFED, the state and federal effort charged with developing and implementing a long-term comprehensive plan to restore the Bay-Delta's ecological health and improve water reliability and quality.
"This action directly answers the widespread criticisms that CALFED's current approach toward environmental restoration is too broad and overextended," said Metropolitan board chairman Wes Bannister. "Establishing a new process for overseeing and funding restoration efforts allows CALFED to focus directly on endangered and listed species that are of the greatest concern and cause the most conflict in the Bay-Delta."
Instead of a species-by-species approach, habitat conservation plans provide a more comprehensive approach for protecting environmental resources by addressing impacts to endangered and listed species throughout the watershed, according to Debra C. Man, Metropolitan's interim chief executive officer.
The development of one or more habitat conservation plans for the Bay-Delta and upstream tributaries also would encourage first-time participation and contributions by a larger group of water and power utilities, as well as other responsible parties throughout the watershed, Man said.
"This approach has the potential to secure even greater future funding from existing water user contributions and other parties in the watershed whose activities may be affecting environmental restoration efforts," Man said. "It's also consistent with Metropolitan's policy principles aimed at assuring that all parties that receive benefits also pay their fair share of the costs."
Negotiated by state and federal resource agencies and representatives from various export, in-Delta, upstream and environmental interests, principles of the multi-tiered agreement outline funding by State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project water users for upfront planning and restoration activities. Half of the funding is expected to be new money above and beyond existing commitments and obligations.
Efforts to be funded include $42 million for ecosystem projects that would help enable species recovery, $8 million for pelagic fish studies, $6 million to initiate habitat conservation plans and $4 million to develop a 100-year vision for the Bay-Delta's future.
Under the principles, Metropolitan would provide an estimated $2.3 million annually for the next two years, along with an additional $3 million a year for a species recovery fund, to be credited against the district's future contributions. Long-term financial commitments to develop habitat conservation efforts would be negotiated in the future.
Man said the principles support near-term actions identified as part of the CALFED 2000 Record of Decision, including the coordinated operation of the SWP and CVP water systems and projects that improve water quality. They also provide for the implementation of the South Delta Improvement Program, including the use of the expanded SWP pumping capacity after appropriate environmental review.