Delta plan nears end; districts optimistic

By Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat December 04, 2012 08:05 am

The latest draft of a major state plan dealing with management of Delta watersheds looks better for the Mother Lode than previous ones, according to an expert working with local water agencies.

The Delta Stewardship Council released a sixth and final draft of the Delta Plan late last week, and water law consultant John Mills is reviewing the lengthy and complicated plan for the Tuolumne Utilities District and Calaveras County Water District. 

 

Mills said Monday that changes in the plan reflect some of the deep concerns foothill water agencies have raised since the plan was conceived in 2009.

“We have gotten them to recognize our water systems are different,” Mills said. “I am hopeful that it will continue to improve.”

The Delta Stewardship Council was tasked in 2009 to draft the guidelines for managing the 1,100-square-mile wetland where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers converge. The plan and its regulations are supposed to comply with what have been labelled as the “co-equal goals” of improving water supply and the health of the Delta ecosystem.

The watershed includes the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Mokelumne rivers, and the plan and its regulations will likely apply to upstream communities on those rivers. Calaveras and Tuolumne county representatives have raised several questions about how the plan and rules will affect local water rights, flow volume, water use and financing.

Mills pointed to two topics in the plan that have addressed some local concerns. Early drafts would have required communities to improve “regional self-sufficiency” but didn’t explain what that meant.

Through work with other agencies, they added language that will allow ongoing and planned projects and efforts for conservation and efficiency, and that are ongoing or in planning stages to count toward that self-sufficiency.

He also said the latest draft recognizes the potential for management’s effect on water supply. He pointed to a University of California, Merced, study that connects forest thinning and management practices in the Sierra and snow pack.

“Water use efficiency is not just the end user using less water,” he said. “It’s also efficiently using the water ... throughout the entire hydrological cycle”

The Delta Stewardship Council released the draft on Friday, and interested parties have through Jan. 14 to provide comments on the plan. According to the council, the plan should be up for a vote in the spring with regulations taking effect this summer.

Mills said there are “countervailing forces out there who want to move the ball in the other direction.” He said the final plan and its potential effects won’t be clear until at least next summer.

John Buckley, director of the Twain Harte based Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, said there is a “huge amount of uncertainty” about how the final plan will affect the area.

Though CSERC is not formally commenting on the plan, Buckley said fears the plan will affect water availability are likely “highly exaggerated.”

“Conjecture and fear that somehow our local water won’t be available in the future is just not tied to any realistic basis,” he stated.

To review the Delta Plan, visit deltacouncil.ca.gov.