Obama Administration Ordered Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan

posted in: Spotlight | 0

Rejecting the call by fishermen, Tribes, conservationists, family farmers and environmental justice advocates to terminate the Delta Tunnels plan before Donald’s Trump’s inauguration, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on January 4 issued a Secretarial Order that will mandate the completion of Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial California WaterFix process “in a timely manner.”

The final Biological Opinion will be issued by April 2017 — and the decision to sign a Record of Decision will be made by the next Secretary under the Trump administration, according to the order.

The Obama administration order directs the Department of Interior and its agencies to “take timely actions to help address the effects of drought and climate change on California’s water supply and imperiled wildlife.”

Regarding the Delta Tunnels project, the order directs Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “to allocate available resources, as necessary, to complete in a timely manner the Biological Opinions under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act and a Record of Decision on the environmental documents for California WaterFix.”

The Secretarial Order directs the Fish and Wildlife Service to “take all necessary actions” to issue an initial Draft Biological Opinion in January 2017 and a final Draft Biological Opinion by March 2017 after incorporating the results of “independent scientific peer reviews.” Following these reviews, a final Biological Opinion will be issued by April 2017.

The order also specifies that the Department, working with the State and others, “will promptly review and consider any information received after publication of the Final EIR/EIS and issuance of the Biological Opinions, and will then be prepared to sign a Record of Decision. This decision will be made by the next Secretary.”

In a press release, Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor claimed, “This Secretarial Order is a practical and broad-based strategy to help protect California’s water lifeline for present and future generations.”

Governor Jerry Brown lauded the Interior Secretary’s order, referring to the WaterFix’s so-called coequal goals of water reliability and ecosystem restoration.

“Today’s action tracks closely with the state’s multi-pronged Water Action Plan and commits the federal government to a timely review of the California WaterFix project,” said Brown. “This state-federal partnership is what’s needed to improve water reliability for residents and farmers and protect vulnerable ecosystems.”

In addition to the section of the order directing the speedy completion of the California WaterFix, the agency ordered other related actions, including: a collaborative Delta science engagement process; a Delta smelt “resiliency” strategy; reinitiation of consultation under the Endangered Species Act on coordinated long term operations on the Central Valley Project and State Water project; active engagement in the development for flow requirements and coordination on flows with ESA requirements; and a winter-run Chinook “Species in the Spotlight” Action Plan.

Robin Swanson of Californians for Water Security, an agribusiness-funded group promoting the Delta Tunnels project, praised the Obama administration decision, calling it a “good signal.”

“Our broad coalition of businesses, labor, family farmers, public safety and civil justice leaders applauds the Obama Administration and Interior Secretary Jewel for pushing to accelerate federal environmental reviews of California WaterFix,” said Swanson. “It is a good signal and we look forward to continuing to work with the current Administration as well as the new Trump Administration.”

Delta Tunnels opponents criticized Jewell’s controversial order. Congressman John Garamendi slammed the declaration as “an outrageous attempt by the Secretary of the Interior to direct a scientific outcome.”

“It’s unconscionable,” said Garamendi in a statement. “I would have expected this from the Trump Administration, not the Obama Administration. The $15 billion twin tunnels are a financially and environmentally disastrous boondoggle that will suck the Delta dry, ravage its ecosystem, and destroy local fisheries, agriculture, and recreation.”

“I strongly disagree with the Obama Administration’s decision to give this disaster of a project an expedited environmental review in the hopes of advancing construction timelines. A thorough review will show that this plan will not add a drop of new water and will destroy the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. They should never be built, and I will oppose them every step of the way,” Garamendi concluded.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, noted that the order “doesn’t change much for us in terms of the timeline of the Delta Tunnels.”

“We understood that the biological opinion for the project would be out in the late spring of 2017,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “However, Governor Brown’s comment seems a bit desperate, as if he is trying to push the tunnels through as a completed project before President-elect Trump is in charge. The project still has a lot of sign-offs to go through.”

“Like his administration’s announcement of the completion of the Delta Tunnels EIR/EIS, there is a lot of posturing by Brown that shows his desperation,” she noted. “In the end, we will win, whether the permits are rejected by the permitting agencies or whether we have to litigate if the plan is approved.”

The order to go “full speed” ahead on the tunnels is seen as a slap in the face to the California conservation, environmental justice, fishing and public interest organizations who have urged Secretary Jewell and other Obama Administration to terminate Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels plan before Donald Trump is inaugurated in January.

“It is time now to make the right decision,” the groups said in a letter to Jewell and other federal officials on November 28, 2016. “The California Water Fix– Delta Water Tunnels– represent a financial as well as an environmental nightmare. This administration should terminate this project.”

Groups signing the letter included Friends of the River, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Restore the Delta, Environmental Water Caucus, Center for Biological Diversity, California Water Impact Network, AqAlliance, Sierra Club California, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water and Planning and Conservation League.

The order is also a slap in the face to the Winnemem Wintu and other Tribes who are fighting to restore wild salmon to the Sacramento, San Joaquin, McCloud and other rivers, as well as to the Yurok, Hoopa Valley and Karuk Tribes who are working to restore salmon and steelhead to the Trinity and Klamath rivers. All of these rivers are currently threatened by Governor Jerry Brown’s California WaterFix.

“We consider Shasta Dam a weapon of mass destruction,” said Chief Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. “It has already taken our homes, sacred sites, burial sites, and stopped the salmon from returning to their historical spawning grounds. If these tunnels are built, Governor Brown’s so called ‘California WaterFix’, they will not only cause more death and destruction to the already endangered salmon, but they will encourage and motivate plans to enlarge Shasta Dam.”

From September 17 to October 1, 2016, the Winnemem Wintu and their allies made a 300-mile prayer journey from Sogorea Te (Glen Cove, Vallejo) to the historical spawning grounds of the winter-run Chinook salmon on the McCloud River.

“The steamroller is being fired up and outgoing Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has made sure it has plenty of fuel,” according to a post on the Winnemem Wintu Facebook page responding to the order. “As Chief Sisk says about the disastrous, expensive plan to raise Shasta Dam and build the Delta Tunnels to divert even more Sacramento and Trinity water for corporate agriculture and oil companies, ‘’This is our DAPL.’'”

The California Water Fix is based on the contention that taking up to 9,000 cubic feet per second of water from the Sacramento River at the new points of diversion, as requested in the petition by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to the State Water Resources Control Board, will somehow “restore” the Delta ecosystem.

Photo of Secretary Jewell courtesy of Department of Interior.