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Sunset at the Nature Conservancy's Staten Island preserve in Walnut Grove, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. (Doug Duran/Staff)

This paper's editorial board wants to stop California's Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) (Editorial, "Bay Area can't afford to lose Delta water fight" May 3). Let's be clear about what the consequences would be.

Without BDCP:

Threatened and endangered species of salmon, smelt and dozens of other fish, wildlife and plants in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta will continue to decline.

As the Delta deteriorates, increased regulatory restrictions to protect these species will further limit the ability of local, state and federal water agencies to move water to serve our farms and cities.

That means more frequent, more prolonged and more damaging water shortages.

Compliance with those restrictions will also send more of our precious freshwater supplies spilling into the ocean.

Many communities from the Bay Area to San Diego will have to pay more for water and water quality in some areas will decline.

Cities won't have the supplies they need to keep their reservoirs full.

Farmers will not be able to count on getting the water they need to provide the abundant fresh fruits and vegetables and other commodities that currently serve families all over the country.

A wide range of other industries will likewise face difficulties in securing the water they need to grow and prosper.

These are only the immediate problems that stopping BDCP would pose for California's water managers. Over the long term, a failure to adopt BDCP will leave California's water system as a whole vulnerable to catastrophic failure from earthquakes, major flooding, rising sea levels and the potential for the kind of megastorms that some scientists say could be inevitable with climate change.

These are the problems BDCP has been designed to address. It is the product of seven years of research, analysis and painstaking negotiation among the experts in environmental and resource management, engineering, economics and a host of scientific disciplines. Every aspect of its development has been treated in thousands of hours of public meetings, and in exhaustive detail at the BDCP website, aconservationplan.com/Home.aspx.

In place of BDCP, the paper suggests that we should build up the Delta levees, provide more water storage capacity, and encourage recycling. Great ideas. The problem is that they're already happening and none of them will solve the basic problems that have created California's water crisis.

California and the federal government continue to spend millions of dollars every year on Delta levee improvements. Those efforts will help to prevent flooding in some areas, provide benefits for Delta farming, and reduce, to some small degree, the risk that a catastrophic natural event may cause a major interruption in the delivery of water through the Delta. But it would do nothing to restore the health of the Delta environment, nor restore, to any significant degree of reliability, the water deliveries that millions of Californians rely on.

Providing additional storage both north and south of the Delta is an essential component of California's water planning. But having additional storage capacity won't do much good if we cannot move the water past the Delta to the places where and when it is needed. Providing that flexibility is what BDCP is all about.

California's local water agencies are already well on the way to meeting our state goal of a 20 percent reduction in per-capita water usage in our population centers by the year 2020. That's being accomplished in part through recycling, but also with the development of cutting-edge techniques and technology to improve water conservation, irrigation, and home use. As important as these steps are, no one seriously imagines they can make up for the increased water security that BDCP will deliver.

We must give first priority to the security of the state's water supply from Contra Costa County to San Diego. BDCP contributes to that security.

Paul Helliker is deputy director for Delta and statewide water management at the state Department of Water Resources.