San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

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When the state Legislature passed a package of water bills in November 2009, Senate Bill X7-1 mandated a framework to realize the co-equal goals of providing a reliable water supply to California and restore and enhance the Delta's ecosystem.

Study mandated
The bill directs the Delta Protection Commission (DPC) to conduct a study to determine if the Delta's Primary Zone should be expanded or changed in other ways . The DPC established a Primary Zone Committee to do the work and make recommendations on the status of the following areas: Rio Vista, Isleton, Bethel Island, Brannan-Andrus Island,

Cosumnes/Mokelumne floodway, and the San Joaquin/South Delta Study Area.

The Primary Zone is more restrictive of any development, in effect banning development whereas the Secondary Zone has a process to change zoning that allows some development, said Mary Hildebrand, chair of SJFB's Water Committee. The Primary Zone was, she said, originally based on land elevations "and those haven't changed."

Complicated issues, much work to do
Regardless of the definitions or the elevations, the Primary Zone Committee must deal with myriad elements in putting together its recommendations.

"This is a complicated process and our [Delta Protection Committee] recommendations have to be put together by December for review by the Legislature," said Bob Ferguson, SJFB member and committee member working on the study.

SB X7-1 set a schedule that began Aug. 23 and is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 16, but Ferguson said the commission has "told the Legislature that if they want quality work they need to adjust the timeline."

Timeline too short
Ferguson said that because of the very short timeline, the Primary Zone Committee had to go "outside with a contractor [Douglass Environmental] to help with the analysis."

The Legislature gave the DPC and the Primary Zone Committee 3½ months to do this complex and extremely detailed study to ascertain what areas of the Delta contain the unique agricultural, recreational, wildlife and cultural resources that are "clearly representative of the Delta and that can be economically sustained into the future," noted Douglass Environmental in a statement.

In the process, the DPC's Primary Zone Committee has presented a number of draft results to the commission and will be holding three community workshops on Nov. 3, 4 and 9.

Farm Bureau watching
"Farm Bureau is watching this very closely," said Hildebrand. She also said that due to the fast-track nature of the study, "We haven't had enough time to notify everyone of this process."

Hildebrand said this is an "attempt by environmental groups to force the Delta to move from ag to turning those areas into habitats" and that ag must be vigilant throughout this process.

Supplementary study recommended
Douglass Environmental has recommended that following the completion of the Primary Zone Study a "supplemental study be prepared that evaluates additional areas within the Delta identified by interested parties and that specific recommendations be prepared for the Legislature for those areas."

Elements involved in determining the boundaries of the Primary Zone that must be examined are many, varied and important and include developing maps, determining the value of agriculture, recreation, wildlife, economy, flood zones, ag development, the environment and the Delta-as-a-Place, to name a few.

Property rights an issue
"Property rights in the Primary Zone must be considered," said Ferguson, along with "the ongoing revision of general plans by counties and cities, and current water issues and those that will occur in the future."

When the Delta's Primary Zone was established after the passage of the Delta Protection Act in 1992 "deals were made at the beginning that we have to contend with now," Ferguson said. "Also, the economics of the region have changed greatly over time and this is why the Economic Feasibility Study is moving along hand-in-hand with our work."

Legislature has final say
Hildebrand pointed out that "even if the DPC's study says, 'Leave the Primary Zone as it is,' the Legislature doesn't have to follow the recommendations. If changes are recommended, there will be legislative hearings and laws will have to be passed to change it."

She said, however, that the primary question is: "What are the politics behind all of this?"

Politics aside, the workload for the Primary Zone Committee, the consultant and ultimately the Delta Protection Commission is immense and crammed into a mandated timeline that could cause shortcuts to be taken and information to be lost in the shuffle.

But Ferguson and his committee are working to avoid that. "We want to get all the information out and set priorities but always keeping in mind that nothing in this situation is automatic."

Public meetings
Two upcoming community workshops will take place the first week in November in Brentwood and Thornton, and one on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 6-8 p.m., Rio Vista City Hall, Council Chambers, 1 Main St. in Rio Vista.