Natural Resources Secretary John Laird Opposes Rider Banning Delta Tunnels Lawsuits

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In a victory for Delta Tunnels opponents urging the Brown administration to oppose Congressman Ken Calvert’s rider banning judicial review of the tunnels and other water projects, California Natural Resources Secretary Laird on July 17 sent a letter to members on the Senate and House committees on appropriations opposing the language.

“Any proposal to exempt water projects from judicial review would violate due process and undermine public confidence,” Laird wrote.

This is the first official statement on the Calvert rider by any member of the Brown administration. Nonetheless, the Brown administration remains firmly committed to the construction of the Delta Tunnels/California Water Fix, considered by project opponents to be the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history. Here is the text of Laird’s letter:

“I am writing to express opposition to recent attempts by Congress to circumvent California’s water management framework by adding riders to the Appropriations bill. Particularly concerning are efforts to preclude judicial review for the California WaterFix and other water operations, and to prohibit the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from fulfilling its obligations to comply with the Bay-Delta Plan. The latter measure would upend California water rights and shift the Bureau’s obligations to other water right holders.

California is committed to managing water and advancing water infrastructure projects in an environmentally sustainable, fiscally responsible and transparent way. Any proposal to exempt water projects from judicial review would violate due process and undermine public confidence.

Our ability to effectively and thoughtfully manage water requires balancing the needs of people, ecosystems, and the economy. Upsetting carefully negotiated agreements has the danger of weakening public confidence in projects advanced by the state.

The additional pressures of climate change require that regulatory processes remain intact to secure both a resilient water supply and functioning ecosystems.

For these reasons, I urge you to pursue solutions that work collaboratively with the state’s water management framework and that do not sidestep the rights of due process or existing federal and state regulatory structures. Any congressional attempt to weaken environmental priorities, undermine federal and state laws or circumvent judicial review is not in the best interest of Californians.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta commented, “We thank Secretary Laird and Governor Brown for stepping up to support judicial review of CA WaterFix. We can disagree about the tunnels, but during these difficult days in our political history, it is paramount that we all support and uphold the Rule of Law.”

Joining the Calvert and Valadao riders, she noted that new legislation introduced by Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) seeks to undermine the State Water Board’s recent proposal to update flow criteria for the Bay Delta Plan and aims to reduce flows through the Delta.

“Restore the Delta maintains that the State Water Board’s update to the Bay-Delta Plan is not without its flaws, as outlined in our recent policy statement,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “However, Denham’s proposed legislation will not solve the Central Valley’s water supply challenges. Achieving real, positive changes in our state’s water distribution system requires a holistic approach. Sustainable and equitable water distribution is a statewide issue—not a fish versus farmers issue, not a North versus South issue, but a complex, interconnected puzzle that affects all of California’s residents and ecosystems.”

On the same day, Congressmen Jerry McNerney (CA-09), and John Garamendi (CA-03)offered amendments to H.R. 6147, the Interior and Environment appropriations bills, to remove language introduced by Congressman Calvert that would prohibit state and federal lawsuits against the twin tunnels and to strip language that would prohibit lawsuits against the five CALFED projects, the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP).

The House Committee on Rules ruled that these amendments were not “in order,” “making a purely political decision regardless of facts and denying Members an opportunity to vote on these amendments on the House floor,” according  to a joint press release from McNerney and Garamendi.

“Preventing these amendments from coming to a full vote on the House floor confirms the purely political motivations behind this troubling language, which was inappropriately included in a crucial spending bill,” said Congressman McNerney. “As the tunnels continue to face legal scrutiny from multiple stakeholders, these riders are an obvious attempt to silence the legitimate concerns from Californians throughout the state, and a blatant effort to undermine longstanding state and federal environmental law.

“The twin tunnels are an environmental and financial boondoggle that would devastate the ecology of the Delta to funnel more water south,” said Congressman Garamendi. “As of today, over 90 parties, including environmental groups and northern California water users have taken legal action against the tunnels. If the project is good for the whole state, as its proponents say it is, why would they try to insulate it from any legal review? The language in the H.R. 6147 would not only insulate the tunnels from needed legal review but would also override water rights across the state.”

Public trust and environmental justice advocates say construction of the two massive 35 mile long tunnels to divert Sacramento River water from the North Delta would hasten the extinction of winter run and spring run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and other species — and decimate West Coast fisheries.

The construction of the project would also imperil the salmon and steelhead of the Trinity and Klamath rivers, since Trinity River water is diverted over the Trinity Mountains from Trinity and Lewiston reservoirs to the Sacramento River watershed to be exported to corporate growers in the Westlands Water District on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

In other Delta Tunnels news, This Thursday, July 19, the Construction Joint Powers Authority for the Delta tunnels project is meeting in Sacramento to discuss the possibility of authorizing its Executive Director to implement a professional services agreement with the Hallmark Group—a construction company that faced public scrutiny last fall when a state auditrevealed Hallmark was unqualifiedto successfully execute a project like the twin tunnels.

The meeting will take place at the Sacramento Public Library, Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95184, at 2:00 p.m.  

“To let the JPA board know we are listening, we need as many Delta advocates to attend Thursday’s meeting and deliver public comments,” according to a Restore the Delta action alert. “It is important to remind the JPA board that the public will hold them accountable for doing work with an unqualified company like the Hallmark Group and for remaining silent on congressional efforts to eliminate due process for the Delta like the Calvert rider and Valadao rider.”

If you cannot attend Thursday’s meeting, please submit comments via email to info@dcdca.orgor call 916-347-0486.