EDITORIAL: Restoring Delta requires plan that is fair and science based

Many trees died to produce the environmental impact report for the Delta Plan. That's because hundreds of groups and individuals from across the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed felt compelled to send in reams of comments to the Delta Stewardship Council. None could be considered love letters.

Judging from these comments, the verdict on the final Delta Plan falls into two categories: 1) The plan is impossibly vague and couched in generalities, or 2) The plan is a regulatory overreach that potentially threatens many of the water users and other stakeholders in the Delta.

As it turns out, both of these responses are accurate. The Delta Plan is a work in progress, a set of principles instead of firm prescriptions. And if California remains committed toward building on these principles, it could well shake up the status quo in the Delta, requiring sacrifices from all involved.

The Delta Plan was mandated by the Legislature as part of the 2009 Delta Reform Act and was aimed at resolving wider disputes over water management. Headed by former Sacramento mayor and lawmaker Phil Isenberg, the Delta Stewardship Council conducted nearly 100 public meetings and produced eight drafts before finalizing its plan on May 16. It includes 14 enforceable polices and 73 nonbinding recommendations, with these general goals:

Investment in local and regional water supplies and water use efficiency to reduce reliance on the Delta. The plan calls for improved conveyance, although not specifically the twin tunnels proposal now under review.

Protection and restoration of the Delta ecosystem, with an emphasis on six high-priority locations.

Prohibition of encroachments on floodways and floodplains, with a plan set for 2015 to guide Delta flood protection investments.

The Delta Plan prods us to examine human wants in the face of natural limitations, with the recognition that the stewardship council retains regulatory power to block actions deemed inconsistent with the Delta Plan. The council's task now is to build upon its baseline, coming up with firm policies that are fair, reasonable, based in science and in conformance of the law.