By Karla Nemeth
California Natural Resources Agency
In 1980 the California Legislature directed the California Department of Water Resources to build a new canal around the Bay Delta for the state and federal water projects, the so-called "Peripheral Canal". Placed before voters in 1982 via the referendum process, the legislation was defeated. The emergence of a new conveyance proposal via the Bay Delta Conservation Plan has prompted a frequently-asked question: Is this the same Peripheral Canal?
While BDCP is still under development, it is possible to compare the legislative approach in 1980 with the multi-agency approach under today’s environmental laws and Delta challenges
First, our grasp of the challenges facing the Delta’s ecology and water conveyance system has evolved substantially in the last three decades. Our understanding of climate change effects on sea level rise and future hydrologic patterns has greatly advanced, and seismic risks in the Delta are better known. It is now clear that, while freshwater flows provide essential fish habitat, numerous factors have contributed to the ecological collapse of the Delta over time. Reversing the decline of native fish and wildlife species requires many actions, in addition to reconfiguring and re-operating the water conveyance system.
Second, in the early 1980s, conservation planning for native species and ecosystems was in its infancy. The Natural Community Conservation Planning Act didn’t even exist. Now it’s an important regulatory framework for BDCP. It requires, by law, that BDCP conserve Delta ecosystems and native species. In the early 1980s, the effort was primarily focused on only two species, salmon and striped bass. Today, the BDCP identifies 214 biological goals and objectives for the Delta ecosystem and native fish and wildlife species – 57 in all. The BDCP also includes more than 100,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat in the Delta.
Finally, the BDCP’s conveyance proposal is smaller – its 9,000 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) capacity is 60 percent smaller than the previous proposal, and 40 percent smaller than existing pumping capacity. The BDCP is designed to respond to the landmark Delta Reform Act of 2009, which mandates a California water future that is less reliant on Delta water supplies. It is only one part of an overall state water plan to bolster local self-sufficiency, reduce consumption, improve water management and reduce reliance on the Delta to meet future needs. Conveyance facilities would also be underground, reducing the permanent surface impacts of the originally envisioned peripheral canal.
Much has changed in California since the 1982 proposal. The BDCP is part of a 21st
century solution to restore the Delta ecosystem while providing a reliable water supply for California.