Delta Stewardship Council Approves Amendments Promoting Delta Tunnels

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In spite of massive opposition by fishermen, family farmers, environmentalists and Delta residents who packed a room in the Holiday Inn in Sacramento on June 22, the Delta Stewardship Council endorsed controversial conveyance and storage amendmentsto the Delta Plan that that project opponents say will hasten the approval of the California WaterFix.

Only one member of the Council, Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson, voted against the amendment that promotes “dual conveyance,” a euphemism for the Delta Tunnels Plan, as the preferred conveyance option.

He cited voting for the amendments, in the face of broad opposition, as an example of the “Abilene Paradox,” when a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many (or all) of the individuals in the group. A common phrase relating to the Abilene Paradox is a desire not to “rock the boat.”

Before the decision, Thomson commented, “The amendment is too narrowly focusing on Delta Conveyance. What happens if the conveyance doesn’t work? I’ll be voting no on the amendment,” he stated.

After the decision, Mike Brodsky, lawyer for the Save the Delta Alliance (STDA), responded, “The Delta Stewardship Council is headed for self-destruction. The previous Delta Plan was struck down by the courts. These amendments to the plan will also also be struck down by the courts and will lead to the abolition of the Delta Stewardship Council.”

Restore the Delta (RTD) noted that their organization, environmental groups and Delta residents have requested the Delta Stewardship Council to follow Delta Reform Act mandates to reduce reliance on the Delta, invest in existing levees, protect fish, and stop the damage from operation of the state and federal water pumps near Tracy.

”Instead, the DSC chose to promote ‘dual conveyance’ systems in order to aid the Brown Administration and special interest water districts attempting to fast-track the Delta Tunnels (also known as ‘California WaterFix’) proposal,” RTD said .

Responding to the decision, Executive Director of Restore the Delta Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, said, “I’m not surprised. While the Council improved their amendment some by requiring new conveyance and storage projects to address the state’s required human right to water policy analysis in their language, the edited amendment ignore the full breadth of laws and policies that should be evaluated for Delta environmental justice communities, and only considers impacts to environmental justice communities outside of the Delta,” she stated.

“The Council continues to tinker around the edges within their planning process instead of fully complying with all state laws and policies regarding environmental justice, protecting the Delta as an evolving place, creating measurable criteria for improving Delta flows, and promoting logical water supply reliability planning. Clearly, the Council picks and chooses what portions of their mandate they are willing to execute. For instance, the DSC claims other state civil rights and environmental justice policies don’t apply to them; this kind of thinking has already gotten the Council in trouble with the courts on the Delta Plan,” Barrigan-Parrilla stated.

Osha Meserve, Attorney for Local Agencies of the North Delta (LAND), stated, “The Council has confused the public about the implications of its decision. While the Council has characterized the amendments as necessary to keep the Delta Plan up to date, the amendments appear designed to placate the mega-water agencies gunning for the Delta Tunnels project. These agencies have demanded that the Council take actions to endorse the Delta Tunnels project, and that’s what the amendments do.”

“If the DSC decides eventually to integrate these conveyance and storage amendments as currently drafted into the Delta Plan as proposed, progress on protecting the San Francisco-Bay Delta will be set back decades. Under no scenario, could an isolated diversion project like the Delta Tunnels be built and operated in a manner that would leave the Delta environment and communities intact,” she concluded.

RTD noted that the Council has failed to complete a basic assessment justifying dual conveyance projects, such as a water supply analysis to show the water is available, or a cost-benefit analysis showing the project could pencil out for ratepayers.

Decision On Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels Anticipated In September

Since 2007 when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger revived the plan to build a peripheral canal or tunnels around or under the Delta, fishermen, Tribal leaders, conservationists, environmental justice advocates and Delta residents have been fighting to stop this plan pushed by corporate agribusiness interests and Southern California water agencies.

After Jerry Brown became Governor for a third term, he embraced the revived plan, reincarnated as two giant tunnels under the Delta, as his “environmental legacy,” along with the completion of the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called “marine protected areas” in California.

Delta and public trust advocates are gearing up for a heated battle against the continuation of planning for the Delta tunnels this summer

On June 26, NOAA Fisheries released a no-jeopardy finding on the biological assessment to build the tunnels, claiming that the California WaterFix will not jeopardize threatened or endangered species or adversely modify their critical habitat. San Francisco Bay-Delta activists responded that the “best available science” about endangered species that depend on a healthy Bay-Delta was not fully considered, and may have been politically manipulated.

Meanwhile, state water agencies are making moves to secure a joint-powers authority with the Brown administration to accelerate the project, as reported by Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith of the Associated Press.

“As the controversial proposal inches toward a crucial vote in September, state and federal water agencies are attempting to drown out the noise made by Delta advocates rejecting dual conveyance with tedious documents and amendments to the Delta Plan,” said Restore the Delta. ”In fact, recently leaked emails reveal that general manager of Metropolitan Water District, Jeffrey Kightlinger, asked member agencies to lobby the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) with pro-tunnels support during the public comments section of their next meeting on June 22 to combat the anticipated outpouring of opposition to the proposed amendments.”

Commenting on the emails, RTD Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said, “The Delta is now being set up to function as a colony of Southern California water interests. MWD is pressuring the Delta Stewardship Council to pass the Delta Plan amendment so MWD can secure its portion of the $17 billion in bonds to pay for the tunnels, costs that will be passed back to their ratepayers in their water bills and property taxes.”

On June 13, Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee reported on how state water supply, environmental conservation, and taxpayers could be impacted if the tunnels proposal is approved:

“What Metropolitan and water agencies in Silicon Valley, Fresno, Bakersfield and beyond decide is going to have sweeping ramifications across California. Ratepayers in Southern California and Silicon Valley could see a hit in their monthly water bills. In the San Joaquin Valley, farmers who’ve seen their water supplies decline sharply over the decades to protect endangered Delta fish will decide whether Brown’s promise of more reliable deliveries is worth cutting into their profits.”

Unfortunately, media reports, including the recent articles by the Associated Press and the Sacramento Bee, have completely failed to discuss one of the most important aspects of the California WaterFix project – the deep relationship between the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and the Delta Tunnels plan.

In spite of some superficial differences, the two processes have been united by their (1) leadership, (2) funding, (3) conflicts of interest, (4) greenwashing goals, (5) racism and denial of tribal rights and (6) junk science. When people educate themselves on the undeniable links between the two processes, I believe they can more effectively wage a successful campaign against the Delta Tunnels and to restore our imperiled salmon and San Francisco Bay-Delta fisheries.