Governor Brown Admits Delta Tunnels Are Unpopular As Legislators Slam Project

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On the same day that Governor Jerry Brown jokingly praised former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for saddling him with the Delta Tunnels and other “unpopular policies,” four Northern California Congress Members and twelve state legislators issued letters strongly opposing the tunnels project.

Brown lauded Schwarzenegger for focusing on environmental issues at the tenth anniversary celebration of the passage of Assembly Bill 32, the legislation that established the state’s greenhouse emissions reductions, in the California Museum in Sacramento on Wednesday, October 5.

“Arnold, thanks for being for climate change, cap and trade, the tunnels project, high speed rail and all the other unpopular policies that I’m saddled with,” quipped Brown.

You can listen to Brown’s comments here 1:01:24:

Restore the Delta (RTD) responded to Brown’s quote, noting that “ Jerry Brown thanked former Governor Schwarzenegger for saddling him with unpopular issues such as the Delta Tunnels — even though, since he was first elected, he’s been pursuing the tunnels like Captain Ahab pursuing Moby Dick!”

As an acknowledgement of the growing resistance by Californians to the WaterFix, Brown for the first time recognized the Delta Tunnels as “unpopular, according to RTD.

Of course, neither Schwarzenegger nor Brown mentioned the many other controversial neo-liberal environmental policies that they are responsible for.

These include authorizing record water exports out of the Delta; driving Delta and longfin smelt, winter run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and other fish species closer and closer to extinction; overseeing the creation of faux “marine protected areas” under the oil industry-lobbyist overseen Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative; appointing Big Oil executives, Big Ag lobbyists, and other corporate officials with numerous conflicts of interest to state agencies and regulatory bodies; and doing everything they can to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental laws.

Nor did Schwarzenegger and Brown mention one of the least discussed issues in California environmental politics – and one of the most crucial to understanding the Delta Tunnels Plan – the clear connection between the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative and the California WaterFix, formerly called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). In spite of some superficial differences, the two processes are united by their leadership, funding, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, junk science and numerous conflicts of interest.

Congress Members ask for responses to cost-benefit analysis

As Brown, Schwarzenegger and other state officials were delivering their comments at the AB 32 anniversary commemoration, Representatives John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney, Mike Thompson and Doris Matsui (D-CA) sent a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) calling for responses to a recent cost-benefit analysis of the California WaterFix Tunnels project conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Michael at the University of the Pacific (UOP).

Michael’s analysis raises “key questions” about the plan, according to a joint news release from the Representatives. The letter also raises a number of questions based upon another recent and unofficially released cost-benefit analysis prepared by David Sunding for the California Natural Resources Agency.

“Both reports confirm what we’ve long suspected –WaterFix doesn’t make good financial sense for California,” said Rep. Thompson. “Under these analyses, water users and even federal taxpayers would be on the hook for investments in a project that can’t promise better water deliveries. State and federal water agencies must not be allowed to squander taxpayer dollars on infrastructure that would devastate the Delta without any guaranteed benefit.”

“The analysis done by Dr. Michael shows that the advertised benefits of the Twin Tunnels simply don’t hold water,” said Congressman Garamendi. “Both cost-benefit breakdowns of the WaterFix that have been released to the public raise major questions about the viability of the project, and its funding sources.”

“The numbers don’t pencil out for farmers south of the Delta,” said Congressman McNerney. “Delta farming operations could be severely disrupted, and endangered species are at risk of not surviving the consequences of this massive project. The WaterFix plan’s costs do not outweigh the alleged benefits and would require a large federal subsidy, while causing irreparable harm to Delta and Northern California communities who have not been adequately included in project negotiations.”

McNerney urged the state to “move away” from Governor Brown’s flawed WaterFix tunnels plan and “implement the cost-effective policy solutions already outlined in the California Water Action Plan – like conservation, recycling, increased efficiency, and storage – that will ensure sustainable water supplies for a healthy Delta ecosystem and California’s farmers and communities statewide.”

Twelve Delta/Bay Area legislators slam California Water Fix diversions

Also on Wednesday, twelve state legislators representing the Delta and Bay Area regions urged the State Water Resources Control Board to reject a petition to change water rights that would reduce fresh water flows to the Delta as part of the controversial WaterFix proposal, a move the lawmakers say will “cause catastrophic damage to the environment and economies of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay region.”

The letter by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and 11 other legislators denounced the proposed water diversions, citing evidence that doing so will cause “serious and potentially irreparable harm to hundreds of plant and wildlife species, and also significantly damage the agricultural, fishing, tourism and recreation industries that rely upon the Delta.”

“Contrary to its name, the WaterFix fixes nothing,” said Wolk, who represents four of the five counties in the Delta, in a press release. “The project won’t provide any additional water supply or increase water deliveries, and will only exacerbate conditions in the Delta. Further reducing fresh water flows to the Delta will cause serious and potentially irreparable harm to the Delta’s fragile ecosystem, as well as its communities and economy. That includes the Delta’s $5.2 billion agricultural economy, as well as the iconic Delta and Coastal fishing industries, which are worth billions annually.”

The Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the principal backers of the California WaterFix Project, submitted the petition to the Water Board to add three new points of diversion from the Sacramento River.

Wolk, a long-time opponent of the Tunnels project, was the lead author of the letter to the Water Board. The letter’s other authors include Senators Mark Leno, Loni Hancock, Jerry Hill, Cathleen Galgiani, Steve Glazer, Dr. Richard Pan, and Bob Wieckowski, and Assembly Members Bill Dodd, Susan Eggman, Catharine Baker, and Ken Cooley.

Wolk and the other legislators urged the Water Board to consider the effects of diverting up to two-thirds of the Sacramento River from the Delta, including increased salinity that would contribute to further declines in species including the critically endangered Delta Smelt, the endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, and the Greater Sandhill Crane.

Wolk said the letter notes the “widespread concern from scientific bodies including the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Delta Independent Science Board that flawed science is being used to advocate for the WaterFix’s proposed benefits to the Delta environment and water quality.”

In August 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a scathing 43-page comment letter slamming the Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS).

The EPA diagnosis revealed that operating the proposed conveyance facilities “would contribute to increased and persistent violations of water quality standards in the Delta, set under the Clean Water Act,” and that the tunnels “would not protect beneficial uses for aquatic life, thereby violating the Clean Water Act.”