Mercury News Editorial
If California wants to make real progress on water policy reform, at least three major elements must be included: a balance between users’ needs and environmental protection, inclusion of all interested parties, and transparency.
A memorandum of agreement issued by the Interior Department appears to have violated all three principles.
Fortunately, it is being challenged by Bay Area members of Congress, including Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove and Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton. They signed a letter asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to rescind the agreement between the department and water agencies. Salazar should comply.
The problem with the agreement is its lack of transparency and its apparent favoritism toward water-export agencies south of the Delta and in Southern California.
The agreement was made behind closed doors with inadequate input from other water interests in the Delta and elsewhere. This flies in the face of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s duty to treat all affected water interests in a fair and open manner.
The agreement also runs counter to the mission of the Delta Stewardship Council, which was formed by the state last year to develop a comprehensive plan with the “coequal goals” of providing a reliable water supply for California and safeguarding and improving the Delta ecosystem. Since stakeholders other than some state and federal water-export agencies have been excluded, the deck appears to be stacked against environmental interests.
The lawmakers who wrote to Salazar say the agreement gives water agencies more access to information and greater control over planning than other groups that have been helping to develop a plan to protect the Delta as well as provide water for users. If the water-export contractors, which have funded water studies, gain control over the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process, where does that leave other interests and the public?
Miller said, “They sort of drove the train off the tracks. This looks like they’re turning the process into a pay-to-play. That’s not going to work.”
He’s right. Water policy is complicated and controversial enough without adding secrecy and undue influence by parties who pay for the studies. The lawmakers also said the agreement appears to be in conflict with environmental protection laws, salmon restoration and water quality protection in Contra Costa County and other areas in the Delta.
To ensure the fairness of any Delta water plan, all stakeholders need equal treatment and access to draft documents and to meetings involving water export contractors and government agencies at the state and federal levels.
Most important, any plan must balance the equal goals of meeting the needs of users and preserving the Delta ecology.
It is not too late for Salazar to rescind the agreement and open the process to all water interests. At the very least, no action should be taken on the memorandum until all stakeholders, including environmental groups and local Delta interests, have a chance to be heard.