The untold story of the Oroville Dam Crisis: the Big Money behind CA water politics

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In all of the intense media coverage of Oroville Dam spillway fiasco over the past month, the mainstream media haven’t yet discussed the real issue behind the disaster: corporate control of California water politics.

The reason why state officials and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ignored a previous warning by Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba River Citizens League that the emergency spillway is not armored (concrete reinforced) and extensive erosion would take place if the emergency spillway was used is not just because of incompetence or negligence. (…)

I believe it is because Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown spent all of their energy and money over the past decade into pushing the water bond and Delta Tunnels, rather than repairing and fixing existing infrastructure such as the Oroville Dam spillway, at the behest of corporate agribusiness interests and the Metropolitan Water District.

During and after the Proposition 1 water bond campaign in the fall of 2014, the mainstream media and so-called “alternative” media refused to report on corporate and billionaire funding for the water bond, Prop. 1. As far as I know, I was one of the few journalists, if not the only one, who reported on this huge story about Big Money domination of the water bond campaign.

Why is this? My belief is that most mainstream media outlets are scared about opening a window into who really controls California and its water, the same type of 1 percenters and corporate interests who own the establishment media.

These are the same media outlets that steadfastly refused to accurately report on the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative’s creation of questionable “marine protected areas” in California under the helm of a big oil lobbyist.

November 4, 2017, a key day in recent California water history, will be the third anniversary of the passage of Proposition 1, Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial $7.12 billion water bond. This is the measure that fishing groups, California Indian Tribes, grassroots conservation groups and environmental justice advocates strongly opposed  because they considered it to be a water grab for corporate agribusiness and Big Money interests.

Throughout the campaign, Proposition 1 opponents warned voters that the water bond would do little to address California’s water problems, including maintaining and upgrading infrastructure such as the spillways at Oroville.

As Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said in the fall of 2014,  Prop. 1 “is a poster-child of why California is in a water crisis: it enriches water speculators but accomplishes little in addressing the drought, solving California’s long-term water needs, reducing reliance on The Delta, or protecting our rivers and fisheries.”

Now that the Oroville Dam spillway crisis is in the media spotlight, I believe it is crucial to once again review the massive amount of money dumped by billionaires and corporate interests on Proposition 1 and 2 because it provides a quick and necessary snapshot of the Big Money interests behind the questionable environmental policies of Brown and his predecessors that have inevitably led to the neglect of the Oroville Dam facilities and other water infrastructure.

Proponents of Proposition 1 contributed a total of $21,820,691 and spent a total of $19,538,153 on the successful campaign. The contributors were a who’s who of Big Money interests in California, including corporate agribusiness groups, billionaires, timber barons, Big Oil, the tobacco industry and the California Chamber of Commerce.

Guess who was one of the major contributors to the Prop. 1 campaign? Yes, Stewart Resnick, the Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoon, owner of The Wonderful Company and largest orchard fruit grower in the world, contributed $150,000.

Corporate agribusiness interests, the largest users of federal and state water project water exported through the Delta pumping facilities, contributed $850,000 to the campaign, including the $150,000 donated by Resnick. The California Farm Bureau Federation contributed $250,000, the Western Growers Service Association donated $250,000 and California Cotton Alliance contributed $200,000.

Resnick and his wife, Lynda, have been instrumental in promoting campaigns to eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections for Central Valley Chinook salmon and Delta smelt populations and to build the fish-killing Delta Tunnels – and have made millions off reselling environmental water to the public. For more information, read:…

The largest individual donor in the Yes on Prop. 1 campaign was Sean Parker, who contributed $1 million to the campaign. Parker is an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who cofounded the file-sharing computer service Napster and served as the first president of the social networking website Facebook. He also cofounded Plaxo, Causes, and Airtime.

Four members of the Fisher family, who own the controversial Gap stores, collectively donated $1.5 million to the Yes. on Prop. 1 and Prop. 2 campaign. They also own the Mendocino Redwood Company and Humboldt Redwood Company, formerly the Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO), more than half a million acres of redwood forest lands in total.

Doris F. Fisher contributed $499,000, John J. Fisher $351,000, Robert J. Fisher $400,000 and William S. Fisher $250,000. The Gap become notorious among labor and human rights advocates for employing sweatshop labor in the Third World to produce its clothes.

In a major conflict of interest, Robert Fisher profits by logging North Coast forests while he serves as co-chair of a little-known cabinet-level body in Sacramento called the “California Strategic Growth Council (SGC),” according to reporter Will Parrish in the East Bay Express. (…)

“Enacted by the state legislature in 2008, the SGC is a cornerstone of Governor Jerry Brown’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” Parrish wrote. “The panel has the broad and unprecedented mandate of coordinating implementation of California’s climate change prescriptions across all levels of state government, while also preparing the state to accommodate a projected population of 50 million by the year 2050.”

“As such, Robert Fisher, whose close relationship with Brown is well-known within the corridors of the state Capitol, is not only in charge of helping set California climate change policy, but he also profits handsomely from harvesting living species that are increasingly being recognized as one of our last best hopes for forestalling the catastrophic impacts of global warming,” said Parrish.

Aera Energy LLC, a company jointly owned by affiliates of Shell and ExxonMobil, contributed $250,000 to the Yes on Proposition 1 and 2 campaign, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Aera Energy LLC is one of California’s largest oil and gas producers, accounting for nearly 25 percent of the state’s production, according to the company’s website. (…)

Tobacco giant Philip Morris also contributed $100,000 to Governor Brown’s ballot measure committee established to support Propositions 1 and 2. On October 20, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) called on the governor to return that money.

A total of eleven ballot measure campaign committees registered in support of Proposition 1 and 2, according to Ballotpedia (…_(2014)

In contrast with the $21,820,691 contributed and the $19,538,153 spent by backers of Prop. 1, opponents of the measure raised only $101,149 and spent $86,347 during the campaign.

To put that in perspective, note that just one big grower, Stewart Resnick, contributed $150,000 to the Prop. 1 campaign, more than all of the opponents combined. And Resnick wasn’t even one of the top 23 donors, with Sean Parker being the largest individual donor at $1,000,000!

In spite of Jerry Brown’s cynical rhetoric about “green energy” at climate conferences and his proclamations about being “the Resistance” to Donald Trump, the money spent by corporate, big money interests on the the Yes on Proposition 1 and 2 campaign in 2014 reveals who really is behind the Governor’s anti-environmental policies.

Brown administration admitted it could use water bond money for Delta Tunnels

Many people voted for the proposition only because Brown said no bond funds would be used for the widely-unpopular Delta Tunnels. However, after the election, as Proposition 1 opponents expected, the Brown administration did indeed admit that it could use water bond funds for the massive tunnels project.

For example, April 2015, an administration official admitted that the state could use money from Proposition 1, the water bond, to pay for “habitat mitigation” linked to the construction and operation of the massive Delta Tunnels.

Richard Stapler, spokesman for the California Department of Natural Resources, “acknowledged that the money [for delta habitat restoration] could conceivably come from Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond that California passed last year,” according to Peter Fimrite in the San Francisco Chronicle.(…)

Restore the Delta and other public trust advocates at the time slammed Governor Brown for breaking his campaign promise that bond money wouldn’t be used to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the tunnels, a $67 billion project designed to export Sacramento River water to agribusiness interests, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and steam injection operations. (…)

Then on August 10, 2016, the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted to conduct an audit into funding for the tunnels, as requested by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman and state Senator Lois Wolk. It will be interesting to see what this audit turns out, including possible use of Prop. 1 money to fund planning for the Delta Tunnels, now called the “California WaterFix.”

The vote for the audit was spurred by the  U.S. Department of Interior’s Inspector General’s opening of  an investigation into the possible illegal use of millions of dollars by the California Department of Water Resources in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Delta tunnels Plan. The investigation resulted from a complaint that the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed on the behalf of a U. S. Bureau of Reclamation employee on February 19, 2016.

The complaint, made public in a statement from PEER on  April 11, details how a funding agreement with DWR is “illegally siphoning off funds that are supposed to benefit fish and wildlife to a project that will principally benefit irrigators” under the California Water Fix, the newest name for the Delta Tunnels Plan.

While mainstream media covered both the audit and the federal investigation into the tunnels funding, they and most “alternative” media outlets completely failed to report on the much bigger issue of the Big Money, $21,820,691, behind the passage of Proposition 1. The same thing is now occurring in the current mainstream media coverage of the Oroville Dam crisis.

Governor Jerry Brown and administration officials, now under scrutiny for their handling of the Oroville Dam crisis, have continually portrayed their environmental policies as “green.” However, twelve public interest groups, led by Consumer Watchdog and Food & Water Watch, challenged Governor Brown’s “green” credentials at a press conference in Santa Monica on February 4.

The groups unveiled a comprehensive report card on Jerry Brown Administration’s environmental record showing he falls short in six out of seven key areas, including fossil fuel generated electricity, oil drilling, and coastal protection. Read the report “How Green Is Jerry Brown?” at

Donations to Yes on Prop. 1 & 2 Campaign:

The committees and money raised for the Yes on 1 and 2 campaign are as follows:

California Business Political Action Committee, Sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce: $1,169,500

Wetlands Conservation Committee, Sponsored by Ducks Unlimited, Audubon California and The Nature Conservancy, Yes on Prop. 1: $265,000  

Conservation Action Fund – Yes on Proposition 1 and 2 – Sponsored by Conservation Organizations: $1,042,526  

Sac. Valley Water & Rice for Prop 1: $72,356

Brown; Yes on Props 1 and 2 A Bipartisan Coalition of Business, Labor, Republicans, Democrats and Governor: $17,690,658    

Think Long Committee, Inc., Sponsored by Nicolas Berggruen Institute Trust, Supporting Propositions 1 & 2 (Non-Profit 501(C)(4)): $250,000  

Western Plant Health Association, Supporting Propositions 1 and 2 (Non-Profit 501 (C) (6)): $100,000

NRDC Action Fund California Ballot Measures Committee – Yes on Prop. 1: $12,653

Southern California District Council of Laborers Issues PAC $203,662    

Laborers Pacific Southwest Regional Organizing Coaltion Issues PAC – Yes on Props 1 and 2: $842,896

The California Conservation Campaign: $171,440

These committees raised a total of $21,820,691 and spent a total of $19,538,153.    

Top 23 Contributors to Prop. 1 and 2 Campaign:

Brown for Governor 2014    $5,196,529

Sean Parker    $1,000,000

John Doerr    $875,000

California Alliance for Jobs – Rebuild California Committee    $533,750

The Nature Conservancy    $518,624

California Hospitals Committee    $500,000

Doris F. Fisher    $499,000

Health Net    $445,600

Robert Fisher    $400,000

John Fisher      $351,000

Aera Energy LLC    $250,000

California American Council of Engineering Companies    $250,000

California Farm Bureau Federation    $250,000

California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems    $250,000

Dignity Health    $250,000

Kaiser Permamente    $250,000

Northern California Carpenters Regional Council Issues PAC    $250,000

Reed Hastings    $250,000

SW Regional Council Of Carpenters    $250,000

Think Long Committee, Inc.    $250,000

Western Growers Service Corporation $250,000

William Fisher    $250,000