Legislative Budget Committee Postpones Hearing on Extending SWP Contracts to Fund Delta Tunnels

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California’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee announced Thursday, August 9, that they have postponed indefinitely a hearing on extending State Water Project contracts to fund Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels, despite pressure from Brown and the Department of Water Resources.

That hearing would have cleared the path for the DWR to force ratepayers to assume the $17-$25 billion cost for the project without legislative oversight over future contract amendments, according Brenna Norton, senior organizer of Food & Water Watch, in a statement.

“We are thankful to Senator Mitchell and California’s legislative leaders for postponing a hearing that could have resulted in Californians shelling out billions for the wasteful Delta tunnels,” said Norton. “This project won’t provide any additional water, but would force higher taxes and water bills on millions of Californians. The state already has costly water infrastructure priorities such as fixing the crumbling and leaking pipes under our cities. California families should not be burdened by a tunnels project that does not benefit them.”

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay) also thanked the Joint Legislative Budget Committee for postponing the hearing on State Water Project contract extensions and amendments that has implications for the proposed Delta Tunnels project.

“As I said in my letter last week to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins, and the co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, it is far too early to hold hearings on State Water Project contract extensions and amendments,” said Frazier in a statement. ‘This was another attempt to ram the proposed tunnels disaster through the process by the Department of Water Resources and the governor. Getting the hearing postponed indefinitely is a victory for the Delta.”

“We have a win to celebrate today,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, after hearing the news of the postponement. “Your calls, tweets, and emails have successfully POSTPONED the Joint Legislative Budget Committee hearing indefinitely! This small victory is a testament of what we can achieve when we work together for a common goal (and the power of an impending deadline).”

“Our coalition of NGO’s, activists, and supporters demanded that key legislators involved in this hearing do not proceed until AFTER the tunnels financial plan is available to the public. You can count on us to hold them accountable. Though we may have won this battle, it’s on to the next,” she noted.

While Brown portrays himself as a “green governor,” he has in fact pushed the federal government to collaborate with him in granting the necessary permits for construction of the Delta Tunnels, considered by opponents to be the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history.

The 35 mile long tunnels would devastate West Coast salmon and other fish populations by diverting Sacramento River water before it reaches the estuary, as well as imperil the salmon and steelhead on the Trinity River, the major tributary of the Klamath River, that is diverted via a tunnel through the Trinity Mountains into the Sacramento River watershed at Whiskeytown Reservoir.

GGSA Responds to Secretary’s Directive on California Wildfires 

On August 8, Secretary of Commerce Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a directive stating that the protection of life and property takes precedence over agreements regarding water use in regions impacted by California wildfires.

“The California wildfires are a direct threat to life and property and all measures available must be taken to protect both,” said Ross. “Today, I direct NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to make clear to all its Federal agency partners that the protection of life and property takes precedence over any current agreements regarding the use of water in the areas of California affected by wildfires. Public safety is the first priority.”

“Consistent with the emergency consultation provisions under the ESA, Federal agencies may use any water as necessary to protect life and property in the affected areas. Based on this directive, NOAA will facilitate the use of water for this emergency. Going forward, the Department and NOAA are committed to finding new solutions to address threatened and endangered species in the context of the challenging water management situation in California,” said Ross.

John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), responded to Ross’s statement, noting that he was puzzled by “what additional actions he was asking federal employees to take.” He also said he disagreed with Ross that the “federal government should hijack California’s wildfires to impose weaker protections for our fish and wildlife.” Here’s his full statement:

“Today, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to take undefined actions intended to provide water that’s already available to firefighters.

Secretary Ross correctly points out that emergency provisions under the federal Endangered Species Act already allow firefighters to use any water needed to protect life and property threatened by wildfires, so it’s puzzling what additional action he’s asking federal employees to take.

We all agree public safety is the first priority. We disagree with Secretary Ross that the federal government should hijack California’s wildfires to impose weaker protections for our fish and wildlife.

A bill languishing in the state legislature, Senate Bill 49, would go a long ways towards confirming common sense protections for fish and wildlife while leaving firefighters, who know best how to fight fire, to do their jobs.”