Criticism of the Cal-Fed Bay-Delta Program continued to pile up during November. First, the Department of Finance released a draft report on Cal-Fed implementation that found a mixed record of progress. One week later, the Little Hoover Commission recommended dissolution of the California Bay-Delta Authority, which began overseeing the Cal-Fed program in 2003.

Gov. Schwarzenegger requested the two studies as well as an organization and program management review by KPMG that is due this month. Schwarzenegger asked for the examinations because of growing concern that Cal-Fed is not making adequate progress on its four goals of improving water supply reliability, levee stability, water quality and the ecosystem (see CP&DR Environment Watch, October 2005).

In a November 10 transmittal letter to Resources Secretary Michael Chrisman, Acting Finance Director Michael Genest wrote, “We found areas with significant accomplishments, such as increased groundwater storage, support of local watershed efforts, and maintenance of water supplies through the Environmental Water Account, as well as areas where progress to date is promising for longer term results, such as ecosystem restoration. We also found several areas where significant progress was lacking, such as levee improvements and increased export of water from the Delta.”

The Little Hoover Commission found that the Bay-Delta Authority, composed of 25 state and federal agencies, is too fragmented to succeed. The Authority “was not given the authority to implement the Cal-Fed Program and it is not clear within the implementing agencies who is in charge of Cal-Fed implementation,” the Commission reported.

The Commission recommended re-creating a previous policy group, with the U.S. interior secretary and the state resources secretary clearly in charge.

“One lesson of the last five years is that Cal-Fed will require an amount of political capital and leadership that can only flow from the institution of the governor,” Little Hoover Commission Chairman Michael Alpert said.

The Commission further recommended adoption of a comprehensive state water policy, a larger role for science in Cal-Fed decisions, and more meaningful public involvement. Additionally, the Commission said the Legislature should clarify its expectations for state agencies and hold them accountable.

The Cal-Fed reports hit at the same time that the Department of Water Resources released an environmental impact report for a project that is intended to meet two Cal-Fed goals: better water quality for farmers and cities, and protection of migrating fish. The EIR drew sharply different responses — just the sort of conflict that Cal-Fed was supposed to stem.

The South Delta Improvements Program would install barriers near pumps at Byron that remove water from the Delta for transport to farms and cities via the California Aqueduct. The movable barriers would decrease saltwater intrusion into the area from which the pumps take water and block fish from the pumping zone. The EIR released on November 10 found that the project would not harm water quality or fish.

However, the Contra Costa Water District immediately questioned the EIR’s conclusion. District officials said the project could increase water salinity at the district’s Delta pumps. Environmentalists and some farmers also questioned the EIR and the entire project, saying it was a partial solution at best. Meanwhile, a coalition of water agencies, farmers and business interests called California Water Future endorsed the EIR.

The EIR as well as the Little Hoover Commission and the Department of Finance reports are all available on the Cal-Fed website: