TO: GINA MCCARTHY, EPA ADMINISTRATOR
FROM: COLIN KNIGHT, ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS STUDENT AT DAVIDSON COLLEGE
DATE: MARCH 30, 2015
SUBJECT: BAY-DELTA ECOSYSTEM
The Bay-Delta ecosystem and its importance to California’s water supply, fishing industry, and natural beauty is well known and the government of California established the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) in 2010 to attempt to preserve the ecosystem for the future. In order to best protect this ecosystem the health of the wildlife must be the prime focus of the BDCP, rather than water supply.
NEED FOR IMMEDIETE ACTION TO PROTECT THE BAY-DELTA ECOSYSTEM
The Bay-Delta ecosystem is a complex network of interdependent species that rely on the existing natural structure to survive, and many of these species are unique to the region.
• Chinook salmon are native to the region and their presence indicates a healthy ecosystem. The salmon represent a vital part of the local economies of California and the Pacific Northwest, as well as being a vital part of the culture of many of California’s Native American Tribes.
• The Bay-Delta ecosystem is an integral part of the San Francisco Bay estuary and the natural beauty and native wildlife populations are of extreme value to California’s tourism and preservation efforts.
• As threats of drought become more present in the United States, it becomes more important to protect essential water supplies such as the Bay-Delta.
POSSIBLE STRATEGIES FOR THE PRESERVATION OF THE BAY-DELTA
These options will require a commitment from both the California government as well as its citizens. It is essential to recognize that the need for environmental preservation and the revitalization of the Bay-Delta ecosystem must take precedent over increasing public demand for water and drought concerns in the region.
1. No Change (Continue With Current BDCP)
2. Reduction of Water Consumption- One of the main concerns of the BDCP is the future of California’s water supply and the current plan would build tunnels to divert even more water from the Bay-Delta at a cost of $67 billion. Instead of this approach, to best benefit the ecosystem, the water would be left in place to allow the wildlife time and space to recover.
3. Increase the Critical Habitat of the Chinook Salmon- As previously mentioned, these salmon are vital to many local economies and threatened by the poor conditions of the ecosystem. Increasing their critical habitat would allow the salmon other forms of wildlife time to recover, while also preserving the region.
4. Address Water Quality Issues (Invest in Infrastructure)- Water quality is a main concern in the Bay-Delta due to outdated sewage systems and chemical runoff. These issues would be addressed by investing in modern filtration systems and waste management practices.
FIVE CRITERIA FOR DECISION ANALYSIS
I have presented a decision analysis for each of the four options based on five criteria: administrative feasibility, political feasibility, environmental costs and benefits, economic costs and benefits, and social costs and benefits. In the table on the last page, I have weighted the criteria differently based on their degree of importance. I argue that environmental costs and benefits, administrative feasibility, and political feasibility should receive the most weight, (.25), while economic costs and benefits and social costs and benefits should receive the least weight, (.125). Each option is rated on a scale of 1 to 3. A score of “1” is associated with a low feasibility or where the costs outweigh the benefits. A score of “2” means that the decision has a medium feasibility, and the costs and benefits are about equal. A score of “3” is associated with a high feasibility, and the benefits outweigh the costs.
All new policy options would require a significant amount of regulatory oversight, as opposed to the current BDCP. Reducing water consumption would require programs to educate the public to conserve water and also investment in other technologies to meet the demand. Increasing the critical habitat of the Chinook salmon would require an enforcement agency to monitor the Bay-Delta ecosystem, while the investment in infrastructure would require a high degree of oversight during the construction process to avoid pollution and to enforce the waste management practices.
The most politically feasible option would be addressing the water quality concerns with improved infrastructure, as citizens are more likely to be concerned with something that directly affects them. The other options would appeal to separate parts of the community, rather than the whole.
ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS AND BENEFITS
The first option represents the biggest threat to the environment, as the ecosystem needs to maintain its water resources. Option 4 would bring the most immediate environmental benefits, while options 2 and 3 would benefit the ecosystem gradually and allow it time to revitalize.
ECONOMIC COSTS AND BENEFITS
Option one would have a massive economic cost, but would also offer a higher quantity of water to the region. Option two would place more of an economic burden on the consumer, who would likely see an increase in price of water. Option three would require a regulatory agency and research to monitor salmon populations, while option four would require a high up front cost to modernize.
SOCIAL COSTS AND BENEFITS
The most socially equitable option is option four because the citizens will be paying (through taxes) for systems that directly affect their water quality, while also benefitting the environment.
As demonstrated in the decision analysis and in the table on the following page, my recommendation is to invest in modern waste management and filtration systems to improve the water quality of the Bay-Delta and allow the ecosystem time to recover. Construction and maintenance costs will be high, but as demonstrated by the current BDCP, money is not the issue. This course of action will mutually benefit the community and environment, while preserving part of California’s natural beauty and local economies.
BIBLIOGRAPHY “California’s Bay-Delta – What’s at Stake | Northern California Water Association.” http://www.norcalwater.org/bay-delta/ (April 4, 2015).  Ibid.  “Fish Out of Water: How Water Management in the Bay-Delta Threatens the Future of California’s Salmon Fishery.” Doug Ogebi. NRDC. July 2008.  Ibid.  Delta Ecosystem. Delta Stewardship Council. 2015.  Ibid.  “Review Period for Deeply Flawed Bay Delta Conservation Plan Ends Today.” Kimiko Martinez. NRDC. July 29,2014.  National Research Council, (U.S.). 2010. A Scientific Assessment of Alternatives for Reducing Water Management Effects on Threatened and Endangered Fishes in California’s Bay-delta. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost)  US EPA, REG 09. “What Are the Challenges?” http://www2.epa.gov/sfbay-delta/what-are-challenges (April 6, 2015).