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Recent California Water News


Resources Agency to Absorb DSC Under Reorganization Plan

Apr 11, 2012

Stockton Record

An independent council with at least some veto power over a peripheral canal or tunnel would be consumed by the same agency that wants to build one under a little-noticed element of a reorganization plan by canal supporter Gov. Jerry Brown.

Critics say the change would strip the council of its role as impartial evaluator of the estimated $13 billion aqueduct, which would cross the Delta west of Stockton.

Brown's plan, released March 30, goes far beyond California's water bureaucracy. It calls for replacing five state agencies with three, and eliminating or consolidating a number of boards and commissions in order to streamline state government.

Buried in the proposal, however, is a plan to place the newly created Delta Stewardship Council under the umbrella of the state Resources Agency.

That's the agency working on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which may include a canal or tunnel to divert the Sacramento River past the Delta on the way to cities and farms from the Bay Area to San Diego. The plan is widely opposed in the Stockton area.

"Now, the agency that was supposed to be the independent auditor is being pulled inside the Resources Agency. What does that do to independent review of the canal?" said Tom Zuckerman, a Delta landowner who closely follows state water policy.

A letter explaining Brown's proposed reshuffling mentions the Delta only briefly, saying that transferring the council "will help improve communication and coordination regarding the state's water policies, and ... will consolidate administrative functions."

A governor's spokesman referred questions Tuesday to the Resources Agency. A spokesman there said the move is consistent with the governor's goal to make state government more effective and will not impact the council's independence.

The Delta Stewardship Council has not yet taken a position, council spokesman Eric Alvarez said. It is reviewing the plan, including any possible "adjustment" in the council's autonomy, Alvarez said.

Brown's proposal must go before the Little Hoover Commission for consideration before moving to the Legislature.

Zuckerman said he first learned of the plan when he was contacted by the commission late last week and asked to possibly sit on a panel at an upcoming public meeting about the reorganization.

Many other Delta advocates were likewise unaware until Zuckerman brought it up at a meeting in Stockton on Monday.

"This is kind of a stealth move," said Bill Jennings, head of the Stockton-based California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. "It's not been publicly announced, it's not been vetted, it's not been analyzed. Clearly the Legislature had intended this (council) be an independent body to evaluate proposals brought before it."

In an email, state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said the plan "strips the council of its independence and the ability to meet its intended purpose."

The Legislature created the Delta Stewardship Council in 2009 as part of a package of bills reforming water policy in California. For now, at least, it is an "independent" council reporting directly to the governor.

The seven-member council is writing a plan that must include the canal or tunnel if, in fact, wildlife agencies give it a thumbs up.

The council will also, however, have the power to hear appeals from those who might disagree.

Brown indicated his support for the canal or tunnel concept as recently as January in his State of the State address, noting it was something both he and his father, former Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, worked on in decades past.

Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or abreitler@recordnet.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/breitlerblog.

Read the letter about Governor Brown's reorganization plan:

The reference to the Delta Stewardship Council is on page 7. Read the letter here, courtesy of Alex Breitler’s Twitter feed.