A Chaotic Mess: State Water Board Suspends Delta Tunnels Deadlines

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The State Water Resources Control Board announced on March 29 that they are suspending the upcoming deadlines for the California Water Fix/Delta Tunnels water rights change petition in response to a request by the state and federal water agencies to extend dates and deadlines for the scheduled hearing, along with a number of other requests either to dismiss or delay the petition.

On March 28, 2016, the Water Board hearing officers for the California Water Fix water right change petition hearing received a letter from the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requesting a 60-day continuance of all dates and deadlines associated with the hearing,

On the same day, the hearing officers also received a request from several parties to dismiss the petition. Then on March 29, the State Water Board received additional requests to delay and stay the hearing, pending resolution of several matters, according to a letter from Tam M. Doduc and Felicia Marcus, State Water Board WaterFix Co-Hearing Officers.

“In response to the various requests, the upcoming deadlines are suspended. A ruling will be issued in the near future formally addressing the requests and providing additional information about the hearing schedule,” said Doduc and Marcus.

The hearing officers said they “are cognizant of the inconvenience to the other parties of repeated delays to the hearing schedule.”

“Accordingly, to inform our consideration, Petitioners are directed to confirm by noon on Friday, April 1, 2016 that they will be prepared to proceed without further delay should the 60-day continuance be granted,” the Hearing Officers concluded.

All of these documents have been or will be posted on the State Water Board’s website at:  http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/california_waterfix/

Just hours before the Water Board announced its decision, the Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) announced a withdrawal of their protest petition with the State Water Resources Control Board regarding the “Change of Diversion Petition” filed by the lead state and federal agencies promoting Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels.

The CCWD reached a settlement with the California Department of Water Resources claiming that the state is going to pay for their new water diversion facility, rather than CCWD customers, to mitigate impacts to drinking water quality resulting from operation of the Delta Tunnels, according to a news release from Restore the Delta.

“The settlement is, in itself, an indictment of the Tunnels and represents Contra Costa Water District’s self-interested approach to the Delta as a whole,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. (http://restorethedelta.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/CCWD-DWR-Agreement-3-24-16.pdf)

“The new CCWD intake will have an impact on water quality and quantity in the Delta and is not covered in the EIR for the Delta Tunnels. The settlement says that DWR reserves the right to override environmental needs and concerns to build/operate the Delta tunnels. They are setting up the project as beyond the law, a project by Governor Brown’s fiat,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), said the State Board “needs to jettison the petition until such time as we have a complete petition.”

“It’s a discombobulated mess, with all of the things that have changed, including last week’s request by the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority for the recusal of hearing officers and the withdrawal of the Contra Costa Water District from the petition protests,” said Jennings. “The petition was not complete and the Water Board should have held off on the petition until it was completed, but they chose not to do so. Instead we will be picking up the pieces that weren’t submitted originally throughout the process.”

“The entire California Water Fix project just changed with the settlement reached with the Contra Costa Water District,” Jennings emphasized. “We don’t even have modeling for this new aspect to the California Water Fix that establishes a pipeline from the Sacramento River around the Delta or from the new segmented Clifton Court Forebay. This changes the hydrology of the Delta.”

“A hearing is premature until there is a defined project description and evaluation of potential impacts. Right now, we don’t have a complete environmental document and a fishery assessment under ESA and we have a changing project,” he concluded.

It is clear that Jerry Brown’s California Water Fix to build the Delta Tunnels is broken and in chaos as the economic, scientific and financial justifications for the project to build two giant tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta become increasingly untenable.

The Delta Tunnels Plan would hasten the extinction of Sacramento winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, along with imperiling the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers. Yet the plan won’t create one single drop of new water for Californians.

The plan would divert water from the Sacramento River before it can reach the Delta in order to benefit corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and extreme oil extraction methods.