Over 200 Delta Activists Slam Delta Plan Amendments at Stewardship Council Meeting

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Over 200 Delta residents, including family farmers, anglers, environmental justice advocates, homeowners, business owners and elected officials, converged on Sacramento on Friday, April 28, to show their strong opposition to Delta Plan amendments that push Governor Jerry Brown’s Twin Tunnels as the “preferred alternative” for new Delta Conveyance.

During the public comment period, every speaker except one slammed the Delta Tunnels project for its multitude of flaws. The only person who spoke in support of the current Delta Plan amendments was a representative of of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).

The Delta Reform Act of 2009 created the controversial Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) with the mandate of implementing the “co-equal goals” of providing a more reliable water supply for California AND protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.

Formerly chaired by Capitol political insider Phil Isenberg, who also chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast and the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Council is currently chaired by Randy Fiorini, who presided over the meeting.

Members of the Stockton-based Restore the Delta, the Save the California Delta Alliance (STCDA) out of Discovery Bay, North Delta Cares and other Delta and environmental groups said the proposed amendments “lack basic analytical documentation,” such as a needs assessment for the California WaterFix, a water supply analysis, and cost-benefits analysis.

They also criticized the proposed amendments for failing to consider environmental justice, anti-discrimination, and human right to water issues in their planning and scientific documentation.

Bob Wright, counsel for Friends of the River, criticized the Council for putting the proverbial  cart before the horse by including the Delta Tunnels as the “preferred alternative” in the Delta Plan.

“The Delta Plan should be done as a whole.  Conveyance is the last piece of puzzle not first,” he emphasized.

“We have heard today it is complicated problem. The DSC scientists said there is much uncertainty and controversy about the project among the scientists.  So, it should not go forward given this uncertainty, on conveyance at this time,” he said.

Delta farmer Russell Van Loben Sels blasted the Delta Stewardship Council for “exceeding its legislated mandate by choosing to promote a project, rather than creating a framework to guide projects proposed for the Delta.”

Retired sportfishing boat Captain Jim Cox,  President of the California Striped Bass Association, discussed how the Delta Tunnels would destroy the sensitive Delta ecosystem, along with salmon, steelhead, striped bass and other fisheries that use the estuary as a nursery.

“Delta water exports have compromised the entire delta ecosystem by effecting the lowest species on the food chain,” he said. “A once-thriving delta system now has adult fish at half the size they were, even just a decade ago. The tunnels plan will increase this effect to the point where no fish local or migratory will be able to exist.”

On a similar note, Janet McCleery, President of the Save the California Delta Alliance (STCDA).  pointed out how 3.5 million acre feet of water is the maximum amount of water that can be removed from the Delta system “before it breaks.”

“The current system isn’t working because the exporters continue to export too much water and the only way to stop them is to slap them with an injunction,” she said. “The ‘fix’  is reducing exports, reducing reliance on the Delta, and managing exports based on the flow requirements. I see in the amendment wording about adopting the flow recommendation, but you talk about weighing in favor of the exporters?”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, called on the Council to eliminate the proposed Delta Plan amendment that promotes the California WaterFix, the most recent name for the Delta Tunnels Project, as the “preferred alternative” for new Delta Conveyance.

“The Council needs to follow the legislative mandate that grants it, its authority, and the recent court order to revise the Delta Plan to include measurable targets to achieve reduced Delta reliance before approving the Delta tunnels,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

Along with creating a plethora of environmental problems for the San Francisco Bay-Delta, she said “disenfranchised communities in San Joaquin County and the other four Delta counties will also suffer the impacts of the Delta Tunnels.”

She noted that generations of Filipino-Americans in Stockton have endured “decades of neglect” brought on by other infrastructure projects, and fear that the Delta Tunnels will bring about “more of the same for their community.”

Community educator, Nikki Chan, with Stockton’s Little Manila Foundation, pointed out:

“Communities are never rebuilt, regardless of the promises made by officials, and the people left behind are the ones who get to deal with negative environmental impacts. In the case of the Delta tunnels, our community members will lose access to fishing areas, marinas, and boating ramps. After construction we learned from the environmental documents that our community members will be left with degraded water quality and contaminated fisheries.”

Delta advocates and the co-authors of a joint letter sent to the DSC on April 18 asked the DSC to consider other alternatives for improving surface storage, performance measures, and conveyance—including replacing the outdated fish screens at the existing water pumps near Tracy with state of the art facilities—without increasing environmental degradation to the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary.

To achieve these results, RTD and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJWC) recommend that the DSC include environmental justice and public health chapters in the Delta Plan’s Environmental Impacts Report.

In fact, the letter points out that the terms “environmental justice,” “human right to water, and “anti-discrimination” cannot event be found in the reviewed DSC documents:

State of California environmental justice, human right to water, and anti-discrimination policy requirements apply to planning activities and decisions by all state agencies. We searched planning and scientific documents prepared by the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) concerning Delta Plan amendments (DPAs) for performance measures andconveyance, storage and operations. We used the terms 1 ‘environmental justice,’ ‘human right to water,’ and various permutations of  ‘anti-discrimination.” None of these terms are found in the DSC planning and scientific documents reviewed for this letter.”

In my review of the revised amendment documents that were released at the meeting, I could not find any of these terms either.

The groups also requested that the DSC pursue a “reduced exports alternative” to comply with the Delta Plan’s primary goal of reduced reliance on water exports from the ecologically impaired Bay-Delta estuary. Once abundant Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish populations have collapsed in recent years, due to massive water exports out of the Delta, combined with decreasing water quality and poor management of upstream reservoirs by the state and federal governments.

Speakers emphasized how the Delta Tunnels would be very lucrative for contractors and consultants, but would be of no benefit to Delta communities.

“For consultants and contractors there is a lot of money to be made here,” said Bob Wright. “But this is not a game for the people of the Delta. This is their lives, their homes, their businesses, their farms. They deserve you taking the time to do the work—the necessary analyses before deciding to choose dual conveyance over through-Delta conveyance.

”I am confused about the Council’s interpretation of the co-equal goals,” summed up Roger Mammon, Secretary of Restore the Delta. “I cannot find one positive aspect for the Delta. It appears  co-equal means we get a double shaft and the people south of the Delta get our water.”

A bus chartered by the Save The Delta Alliance brought 50 members from Discovery Bay to the meeting and as many more STCDA members drove from Discovery Bay, other South Delta communities (Bethel Island, Antioch, Oakley, etc.) and some from as far away as San Jose and San Francisco to show their opposition to the tunnels. Many of the STCDA members — about half the people gathered at the meeting — wore white “Save the Delta / No Tunnels / No Gates” tee shirts, according to McCleery.

Michael Brodsky, lawyer for the STCDA, said, “Since 2010, the Delta Stewardship Council has refused to do their job. Their job is to find solutions to the problem that the way we now export water from the Delta to supply California cities and farms harms the Delta and makes our state’s water supply unreliable.”

“From 2010 to 2013, the Council spent thousands of hours developing a useless Delta Plan because they refused to address harmful exports,” he stated. “For three years, they said ‘the BDCP will do it for us; the BDCP will fix everything. We sued them and asked the Court to order them to do their job—which is to address harmful exports, not bow down to the BDCP. The judge agreed with us. The judge struck down the Delta Plan and ordered the Council to try again.

”Now the Council says, well, the BDCP has looked at all of this for years and years now and what they want–the twin tunnels—is good enough for us. No need for us to look at this, it has all been done for us,” said Brodsky.

“They just don’t get it. The status quo, a failed tunnel project, doesn’t cut it. Delta Council, please do your job and find solutions to save our Delta. That is our message,” Brodsky concluded.

Barbara Daly, Co-Chair of North Delta CARES (Community Area Residents for Environmental Stability) warned the Council that the changes made to the Delta Plan will only lead to greater reliance on the Delta’s water:

“Currently, the California WaterFix has expressed that Alternative 4A of the BDCP is the preferred alternative, and it takes 3,000 cfs at each of 3 new intakes in an 8 mile stretch from Clarksburg to Hood to Courtland (9,000 cfs).

Now, adding ‘Dual Conveyance’ only adds another alternative, Alternative 9, that has not been part of the discussion up until today.  Alternative 9 is the Through Delta Conveyance Alternative in the BDCP other than the ‘No Change’ Alternative.  Alternative 9 plans to build 2 new intakes, each large enough to take 7,500 cfs (15, 000 cfs); one at Walnut Grove where the Georgiana Slough (SWP) begins and one at Locke (CVP) where the Delta Cross Channels are located.  I was wondering when Alternative 9 would be added to the CA WaterFix, and today is the day.

Should this happen, both of these towns will be destroyed.  In the EIR/EIS it states that 100 year old buildings will fall due to the noise decibels and the shaking/vibrations from the pile driving.  The whole, entire Main Street of Locke was built in 1915 and is on the National Historic Register.  There are also many buildings in Walnut Grove, established in 1850, that will not stand through construction. Please do not vote to accept the Delta Plan Amendment for conveyance, storage systems and the operation of both.”

The public comment period followed over 1-½ hours of presentations on the amendments by DSC staff and discussion of the amendments by the Council members. Many members of the audience held up small placards that said “Disagree” on one side and “Agree” on the other side in response to the comments of DSC members and staff as they discussed the amendments.

After hearing the public comment, the Delta Stewardship Council members briefly discussed the amendments, but made no decision on the agenda item. They will review the amendments at their next meeting.

The Delta Tunnels would divert Sacramento River water through two massive 35-mile long tunnels under the Delta for use by agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California water agencies. They would not only hasten the extinction of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, but they would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers, according to scientists and fish advocates.