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Pitting North Against South is Not the Solution

Editor’s note: The controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the recent subject of extensive attention and media coverage statewide. The views expressed in this article and its sidebars represent the authors’ opinions and not the policies or positions of the League.

Darrell Fong is a Sacramento City Council member and can be reached at dfong@cityofsacramento.org.


California needs a statewide solution to its water problems, which must be addressed so that everyone has access to clean, safe, reliable and affordable water. The governor’s preferred proposal, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), will degrade the water reliability and quality of life for Northern California’s residents because it lacks enforceable water supply assurances for the region. Without these assurances, the north state’s economy and natural resources are in jeopardy.

Governor Brown’s administration frequently states that the BDCP safeguards California’s economy and its environment. Perhaps it does, but only for Southern California. A reliable supply for Northern California is being neglected. Why can the state guarantee water reliability for Southern California but not Northern California? It’s because the project as proposed increases water supply reliability only to areas that export water out of the Delta, such as Southern California cities and agricultural interests in the San Joaquin Valley. The current plan simply transfers the water shortages from south to north despite the fact that many of these northern communities have long-standing senior water rights.

In a dry year there is not enough water for both Delta needs and south-of-Delta exporters. Where will the water come from to meet both the environmental needs of the Delta and the agricultural and/or urban needs of the south? The state has yet to answer this question and leaves Northern California to assume the worst. Focusing on increasing water supply assurances to half the state while jeopardizing the other half is not a viable solution for California’s water supply problems. Pitting one part of the state against another will only result in more conflict and delay.

What can be done?

  1. Gov. Brown must provide the leadership to address Northern California’s concerns and water supply assurances for the entire state.
  2. The solutions need to go beyond the size and operation of the tunnels that export water out of the Delta. California needs a portfolio of water supply strategies that increases conservation, water recycling, desalination and other means that diversify the water supply and decreases reliance on the Delta. This approach will increase regional self-dependence throughout the state and is critical in light of climate change and the anticipated annual decline of the snowpack. 
  3. A balanced governance of the Delta export operations must have Northern California representation. Governance should not be one-sided and should force consensus to ensure fair solutions. 

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan: An Overview and Local Perspectives

By Mark Cowin

The Current Plan is Flawed

By Don Nottoli

Legal Issues Raised by the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

By Martha Lennihan

Big Challenges and a Huge Need for Leadership

By Glen Becerra