2/29/12: BDCP’s Own Study Shows Plan Could Lead to Species Declines and Extinction; Actual Impacts to Delta Ecosystem Could Be Worse Than Study Shows

February 29, 2012 - For immediate release

Contact: Gary Bobker, The Bay Institute, 415-272-6616 or Dr. Jonathan Rosenfield, The Bay Institute, 510-684-4757

The revised “Effects Analysis” (EA) that was released today, prepared for and funded by Delta water exporters and the state and federal governments, demonstrates based on its own findings that the proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) – far from restoring the Delta’s endangered species and habitats – could hasten the decline of several species. And a preliminary analysis (attached) by the Bay Institute and Defenders of Wildlife reveals that because the EA severely underestimates the impacts of implementing the proposed BDCP, the actual effect on endangered species and habitats is likely to be even worse than portrayed, potentially leading to the extinction of several species.

“A long-term solution is desperately needed to save the collapsing Delta ecosystem,” said Bay Institute program director Gary Bobker. “But a species recovery plan that actually causes species to go extinct hardly fits the bill for that solution. Governor Brown needs to pay less attention to high-speed rail and more attention to the high-speed endangered species train wreck his administration is unwittingly driving toward in the Delta.”

Despite over half a decade of critical reviews of the state of BDCP’s science by independent science panels, fish agency biologists, and other experts, the new EA continues to fail to meet a minimum threshold for credible technical analysis (while showing an improvement over previous versions in a number of areas, to be fair). Our review found that the EA ignores known and likely negative impacts; overestimates the plan’s potential benefits; employs non-standard or questionable analytical approaches while ignoring proven scientific tools and metrics; “cherry picks” data to support a particular outcome; tailors model outputs to produce the most favorable results; and misrepresents current scientific research and the professional judgment of experts.

“The project evaluated in the EA would increase the risk of extinction for many imperiled Delta species, including two runs of Chinook salmon, delta smelt, and longfin,” said Dr. Jonathan Rosenfield, conservation biologist with The Bay Institute. “Yet it adheres to a hope that the Delta’s endangered fish and habitats can be restored while exporting more water from the Delta. The disconnect between the data and the assertions made by BDCP is startling.”

The BDCP can be “fixed”, according to Dr. Rosenfield, if it adopts specific, science-based, and enforceable targets for recovery of endangered species and habitats; designs actions to reduce the most important stressors known to prevent species recovery, such as flow alteration; and employs the best available science tools and methods to evaluate the likelihood of both positive and negative impacts of different proposed Delta actions. The current BDCP presents targets that are often vague and/or will not lead to species recovery and actually reduces critically important fresh water flows into, through, and out of the Delta. And the current evaluation of the BDCP (the EA) presents a favorably biased view of the Plan’s outcomes by employing methods that appear to have been selected on the basis of anticipated results that would find that project operations have little effect on fish populations.

The BDCP is an initiative to develop a 50-year permit for operations of the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project under the auspices of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and California’s Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA). The proposed plan, whose development is funded and subject to approval by water exporters before its submission to permitting agencies, is intended to support the State’s co-equal goals of recovery of “covered” species and habitats in the Delta and improved reliability of water supply for water
exporters. BDCP’s primary elements include construction and operation of a new water diversion and conveyance facility (a canal or tunnel) in the North Delta and restoration of Delta wetland habitats. The Bay Institute and Defenders of Wildlife have worked together for the last five years in the BDCP process to try to craft a plan that meets the co-equal goals and the legal requirements of the ESA and NCCPA, albeit with disappointing results to date.

“Our organizations will continue to work through BDCP and other venues toward a Delta solution that is based on the best available science; addresses flow alteration and other priority stressors that are driving species to extinction; and promotes alternative water management approaches that reduce exporter water supply reliance on the Delta,” said Bobker. The Bay Institute is a non-profit research, advocacy and education organization dedicated to protecting, restoring, and inspiring conservation of San Francisco Bay and its watershed. To learn more about The Bay Institute, visit www.thebayinstitute.org.