Searching for rare plants in the Delta [link]
2011-01-08 "Vallejo native in charge of Delta agency" by Mike Taugher from "Contra Costa Times":Critics of a troubled plan to address increasingly serious problems in the Delta said this week they hoped a change in direction was imminent after a staunch supporter of environmental causes was appointed the state's top official overseeing natural resources. Environmental groups and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta representatives warmly greeted the selection of Vallejo native John Laird, a former Santa Cruz legislator with East Bay connections.
Leaders of water agencies that depend on pumping from the Delta more circumspectly promised to work with the new administration of the state Natural Resources Agency. Laird was named this week to head the Resources Agency, which oversees coastal issues, water and forestry. Although budget issues loom at the top of any to-do list in state government, one of Laird's top policy issues will be resolving the conflict in the Delta between water demands and the grave decline of the West Coast's largest estuary. He will probably also be involved in energy issues, including ensuring that solar energy projects are permitted, and plans for marine reserves, where fishing is severely restricted, are completed, said Ann Notthoff, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's advocacy in California. State parks, which have been hit hard in recent budgets, are also under his charge.
As a legislator, Laird in 2008 proposed increasing vehicle license fees by $10 to fund state parks. The proposal, which was defeated, Advertisement D & D Plumbing would have granted California motorists free entry to the parks. "We have a lot of confidence in John Laird's ability to think creatively," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation. "We are hopeful, not that state parks will avoid cuts, but that there will be some deep thinking to minimize cuts ... in this budget cycle." No issue is likely to be as complex or contentious as the one looming in the Delta. Asked how much of his time would be devoted to water and the Delta, Laird said, "I'm not sure yet, but I am sure it will be significant." Laird, 60, said it was too soon to discuss policy specifics. But he has a history of interest in state water issues.
His undergraduate thesis at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was on California water development, and in 1972 he went on to work for two years in the East Bay offices of the late Rep. Jerry Waldie, who opposed plans to send water around the Delta instead of through it.
Laird arrives at his new post with Delta planning at a precarious point. Consultants are busily trying to complete a key study that could determine the Bay Delta Conservation Plan's fate. A couple of major water agencies have threatened to walk if they can't get more water. Laird's predecessor, Lester Snow, was heavily involved in pushing the plan, first as the director of the Department of Water Resources and then as resources secretary. Snow's direction often frustrated environmentalists and Delta-area residents, but it is not clear whether the new boss will change direction, and, if so, how dramatically. "My sense would be the Brown administration is not going to walk away from BDCP, and it's also not going to pretend there are not problems with it," said Gary Bobker, program director at the Bay Institute, a Novato-based environmental advocacy group, and a member of the BDCP's steering committee. The plan lacks firm goals for fish populations, has not adequately incorporated information about the ecosystem's need for more water and has not developed plans for other water sources or water conservation, Bobker said.
Representatives of water agencies that rely on the Delta said they would find ways to work with the new administration.
"Laird is from a different political persuasion than most of our growers," said Sarah Woolf, spokeswoman for the Westlands Water District, which recently said it would no longer fund the Bay-Delta study because, it said, Obama administration officials were insisting on better environmental protection. "To date, our concerns have been on the federal level, not the state level," Woolf said.
Another San Joaquin Valley farm group, Families Protecting the Valley, was more skeptical. "What little hope we had for solving water problems in California just went down a couple of notches with this appointment," the group said in a statement. Environmentalists and Delta residents said Laird's selection was a hopeful sign. "I think he's a superb choice and will bring both environmental and fiscal fairness and expertise to the job," said Warner Chabot, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, which gave Laird a 100 percent rating for votes cast during his six years in the Assembly.