Sacramento – On the day after Governor Jerry Brown once again touted his Delta Tunnels Plan (“reliable conveyance”) as a “solution” to California’s water problems in his State of the State address, Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) announced the introduction of legislation to block the Governor’s controversial project unless it is approved by California voters on a statewide ballot.
“An enormous amount of time and energy has been wasted rebranding and repackaging the same old Peripheral Canal plan that voters rejected decades ago,” Eggman said. “It’s tragic that despite our ongoing drought, this flawed plan is being forced on us without any true debate even though it will not add one drop of water to California’s supply, but it will raise the water rates and potentially property taxes of millions of Californians.”
The California voters overwhelmingly defeated a measure to build the earlier version of the project, the Peripheral Canal, in November 1982. Jerry Brown opposes a public vote on the tunnels, as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did before him.
Eggman said the new bill will require approval via ballot initiative for “any infrastructure project that conveys water directly from a diversion point in the Sacramento River to pumping facilities of the State Water Project or the federal Central Valley Project south of the Delta.”
“In 2012, the Governor was committed to asking the voters to approve a substantial tax increase. I’m hopeful he will be just as committed to seeking voter approval before embarking on a project that will cost tens of billions of dollars and greatly impact the Delta region,” Eggman said.
Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), a recognized leader on state water policy issues who has represented the Delta region in the State Legislature for 13 years, joined Eggman in announcing the introduction of the bill.
“California’s taxpayers and ratepayers should have the opportunity to weigh in on whether to commit billions of dollars to a project that economists say isn’t a good investment, scientists say is a disaster for the Delta’s ecosystem, and the water exporters’ own studies show will not produce a single drop of new water supply,” said Wolk.
“The proposed tunnels are the most expensive, most controversial water project proposed in half a century with the potential to permanently destroy the Delta’s ecosystem and community. Californians have the right to look at the facts and decide whether the tunnels are good for California, or whether we should drop this plan once and for all,” she concluded.
The state and federal water agencies rebranded the Peripheral Canal/Tunnels project as the “California Water Fix” last summer after the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) failed to meet environmental standards required to obtain the necessary permits from the federal regulatory agencies. The agencies split the BDCP into two components — the tunnels plan, the California Water Fix, and the habitat “restoration” plan, California Eco Restore.
The tunnels project would cost at least $15 billion to $25 billion, according to the administration’s estimates, although the real cost of the tunnels could be over $67 billion. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given the widely-contested project a failing grade, calling the new environmental impact report “inadequate,” according to a news release from Eggman’s Office.
Assemblymember Catharine Baker, Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, Assemblymember Jim Frazier and Assemblymember Kevin McCarty are joining Eggman and Wolk as co-authors of the legislation.
While the Eggman bill focuses just on the Delta Tunnels, there is currently on the November 8 ballot a measure, the “No Blank Checks Initiative,” that would force voter approval for public infrastructure bonds amounting to more than $2 billion and requiring new or increased taxes or fees. This initiative, if passed, would effectively force a vote on the tunnels and other similar projects. Dean Cortopassi, a Stockton region farmer and landowner, is spearheading the initiative. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/11/03/1444112/-Initiative-threatening-Delta-Tunnels-Qualifies-For-Ballot)
Environmental and fishing groups praise bill
Representatives of environmental, fishing and anti-corporate groups praised the introduction of the legislation, since it will force a vote on a project that will hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species and will destroy the San Francisco Bay/Delta Estuary, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.
The California Water Fix also imperils the steelhead and salmon run on the Klamath and Trinity rivers, fish populations that are an integral part of the culture and livelihood of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes.
“Restore the Delta supports fully Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman’s legislation blocking the tunnels without a vote of the people,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD). “The tunnels will destroy the sole source of drinking water for one million Delta residents, the physical environment and the state’s most magnificent fisheries and breathtaking habitat for birds on the Pacific flyway – not to mention the agricultural and related economies for an additional three million Delta area residents. The Delta is not California’s sacrifice zone.”
Conner Everts, Executive Director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance, said, “Given this so called Delta fix has grown in costs, lost any illusion of environmental mitigation, and doesn’t provide Southern California with any new water, the time has come to know what the true cost-benefit ratio is and allow a vote. This legislation reinstates the legislature’s prerogative, and gives the entire state a voice, especially those in Southern California who would have to pay for the project. The drought has shown that people in Southern California want a say in how their water utility payments are invested and that local water strategies are the best result for each dollar spent.”
“Food & Water Watch applauds Assemblymember Eggman for introducing legislation that empowers everyday Californians to vote on the wasteful Delta tunnels project,” said Adam Scow, California Director of Food & Water Watch. “It’s only fair that Californians get to vote on a project that demands so much of our water and money, especially when we need to invest billions toward fixing our aging local water and wastewater systems.”
Jerry Brown pushes “reliable conveyance” in his State of the State
During his speech in Sacramento on January 22, Brown promoted building “reliable conveyance” – the twin tunnels – and building storage as key components of his water “vision” for California. However, the Governor was not as brash in his promotion of the tunnels as he was last week when he told reporters after his address at the Association of Water Agencies (ACWA) event in Sacramento that the construction of the project was “absolutely necessary.”
“Our goal must be to preserve California’s natural beauty and ensure a vibrant economy – on our farms, in our cities and for all the people who live here,” Brown stated. “There is no magic bullet but a series of actions must be taken. We have to recharge our aquifers, manage the groundwater, recycle, capture stormwater, build storage and reliable conveyance, improve efficiency everywhere, invest in new technologies – including desalination – and all the while recognize that there are some limits.”
The Governor also proclaimed some “achieving balance between conflicting parties” rhetoric, all while he continues to serve the interests of the corporate agribusiness, Big Oil, Big Timber and other corporate interests through his anti-environmental water policies. These policies have brought Central Valley steelhead and salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, green sturgeon and other fish species to the brink of extinction under his administration.
“Achieving balance between all the conflicting interests is not easy but I pledge to you that I will listen and work patiently to achieve results that will stand the test of time,” Brown claimed. “Water goes to the heart of what California is and what it has been over centuries. Pitting fish against farmer misses the point and grossly distorts reality. Every one of us and every creature that dwells here form a complex system which must be understood and respected.”
The Governor’s Office also unveiled a new video promoting the tunnels, a video that Barrigan-Parrilla described as “mockworthy.” The “California WaterFix Video” is hyperlinked to the words “reliable conveyance” in the on line transcript of Brown’s speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAFaQ9D_joI
Barrigan-Parrilla also said, “We are thrilled to hear Governor Brown’s commitment to protecting ecological systems,” while blasting Brown for moving ahead with the Delta Tunnels plan, considered by many to be potentially the most environmentally destructive project in California history.
“Unfortunately, Governor Brown insists on moving forward with the Delta tunnels project despite serious environmental concerns raised by numerous organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency which found the plan ‘incomplete’ with required analysis ‘not yet done,’” Barrigan-Parrilla said.
While Brown has posed as a “climate leader” and “green governor” at conferences and photo opportunities around the globe, including the Paris Climate Talks in December, he has overseen water policies that have have brought once robust Central Valley salmon and steelhead and Delta fish populations to extinction’s edge, in addition to promoting the Delta Tunnels Plan, a project that will only cause further ecological, economic and cultural damage.