Another Water Agency Taxes Property Owners for Delta Tunnels

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Ever since California voters overwhelmingly rejected the peripheral canal in November 1982, the state and federal governments and regional water agencies have concocted a number of schemes to fund this unpopular water diversion plan without a vote of the taxpayers.

In the latest scheme, documents released under the California Public Records Act reveal that the Zone 7 Water Agency of Alameda County has been using property taxes to pay for Delta Tunnels (BDCP/CA WaterFix) planning costs “before even one shovel of dirt has been turned,” according to a statement from Restore the Delta.

The Delta Tunnels plan, developed under the Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) processes and now under the California Water Fix, is the latest incarnation of the peripheral canal backed by Governor Jerry Brown in his first two administrations.

If there’s one thing that Jerry Brown and Delta Tunnels advocates DON’T like, it’s openness and transparency in government, as we can see from these documents. That’s why Livermore area property owners have been paying for Delta Tunnels planning efforts without their consent – and without their knowledge.

Fees for the tunnels, designed to ship northern California water to Southern California water agencies and corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, were supposed to come from water ratepayers, not property taxes.

“California Department of Water Resources, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and Zone 7 officials have said for years in public that the tunnels would cost just $5 a month for urban water users,” the group said. “Yet these taxes were buried deep in agency records in at least two water districts.”

“The public is unaware that their property taxes are being used to pay for the planning of a project that will have negative impacts on the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. “Property taxpayers in Zone 7 never had a vote on the matter, and the district has not discussed this funding in any broad manner to facilitate public understanding.”

This June, a PRA request exposed a similar Delta Tunnels funding scheme by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, resulting in public outcry over funding the Delta Tunnels with property taxes, Barrigan-Parrilla said.

“We are seeing a similar shell game being used to fund Delta Tunnels planning in water districts across the state,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

In letters to both Zone 7 and Santa Clara Valley Water District in March 2016, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said urban water districts could face lawsuits over these property taxes for the project because the Delta Tunnels were not part of the 1960 act that launched the State Water Project.

“To be legal, any new fees for the Delta Tunnels must be approved by a two-thirds vote of taxpayers under Proposition 13,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

However, she said Zone 7 collected these property taxes to pay for their share of the State Water Project. About 1/12th of what has been paid to the State Water Project from 2008 to 2013 has been used to pay for Delta Tunnels planning for a total $2,473,768. An estimated additional $259,751 was paid in 2014.

“If Zone 7 could not undertake Delta tunnels planning without tapping into property taxes, how will it pay for its share of a $15 billion project (before cost overruns) relying only on a $5 month increase to water bills?” asked Barrigan-Parrilla.

The giant Delta Tunnels – each 35-miles long and 40-feet in diameter – would divert water from the Sacramento River before it could flow into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

The tunnels will hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. The California WaterFix, the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history, would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers, populations that have been an integral part of the cultures and livelihoods of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes for thousands of years.

The tunnels will indebt California taxpayers for decades to come. The total cost of the Delta Tunnels, once completed, could be as high as $68 million when interest on borrowed money is added to construction and planning costs.

The Delta Tunnels project is a parallel venture to the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative that creates faux “marine protected areas” on the California coast. The process, completed by the Brown administration in December 2012, developed alleged “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, offshore drilling, oil spills, pollution, energy projects, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

The Delta Tunnels plan and MLPA Initiative are intimately linked by leadership, funding, conflicts of interest, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, and terminally flawed science. For more information, go to:

Analysis of the Zone 7 PRA Documents:

The original PRA request for the Zone 7 Water Agency was intended to investigate the sources of funds Zone 7 is using to pay the DWR for its BDCP Program. According to the DWR Statement of Charges, from 2008 through 2013, Zone 7 paid $2,473,768 to the DWR for BDCP usage. The breakdown of charges expressed in the Statement of Charges (SOC), is as follows:

Year Charges ($)
2008 67,764
2009 551,820
2010 672,854
2011 102,180
2012 474,826
2013 604,324
Total 2,473,768

A footnote to this table in the original attachment in the statement of charges states that for years 2012 and forward “total BDCP-DHCCP charges are included as a line item in a letter from DWR and invoiced 1/12 per month as part of the Minimum Transportation Charge.” According to the State of Charges for funds due in 2014, the annual transportation charge will be $3,117,017. 1/12 of the total value of this comes to $259,751 (see Attachment A1), and this should be treated as the 2014 BDCP contribution value.

According to Zone 7’s Budget and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015-2016, all funds sent to the DWR for State Water Project charges come from Fund 110 (State Water Facilities). Fund 110 is primarily paid for by property taxes – see page 3-6 of the 2015-2016 budget. Approximately 84.5% of this fund is paid for in property taxes.

It is clear that Zone 7 uses property taxes, water sales and “other revenue” to pay for its BDCP contributions to the DWR.

For more information, go to: