Brown Administration Withdraws Key Document Necessary for Approval of Delta Tunnels

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In a major setback for Delta Tunnels proponents, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today sent a letter to Randy Fiorini, chair of the Delta Stewardship Council, announcing the withdrawal of the Department’s “certification of consistency” for the California WaterFix.

The “certification of consistency” with the Delta Plan is required under the Delta Reform Act of 2009 in order for Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels project to move forward, so the Brown administration’s withdrawal of this certification all but ensures that the project will not be approved until after the next Governor, Gavin Newsom, enters office in January.

In their controversial document, DWR claimed that the Delta Tunnels would be “consistent” with the Delta Plan’s “co-equal goals” of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem, but nine appellant groups challenged this contention.

“While DWR firmly believes the timing of filing the Certification of Consistency for WaterFix was appropriate based on the thorough record that had been prepared for the project and that this record more than adequately supports the findings that WaterFix is consistent with Delta Plan policies, DWR appreciates that there are unresolved issues related to interpretation of the requirements of the Delta Reform Act and Delta Plan policies,” wrote Karla Nemeth, DWR Director. “Therefore, DWR is hereby withdrawing the Certification of Consistency for California Water Fix that was filed on July 27, 2018.”

Read the full letter here: DWR to DSC WaterFix Consistency Certification 12.7.18

After receiving the letter, Council Chair Randy Fiorini responded, “During the appeals process this fall, several of the parties expressed a willingness to work toward resolving issues that were raised. The withdrawal of its Certification of Consistency for the California WaterFix now provides the opportunity to fully engage.”

“It must be acknowledged that status quo conditions for conveyance in the Delta are unsustainable,” Fiorini added. “It is the responsibility of all stakeholders in and beyond the Delta to find workable solutions to improve statewide water supply reliability as well as protect and enhance the Delta ecosystem, all in a manner that protects the Delta as an evolving place.”

Following the action by DWR, the Council’s Executive Officer Jessica Pearson dismissed the appeals as “no longer raising issues before the Council,” thereby lifting the ex parte restrictions that had prohibited its members and staff from working with the parties outside of the Council’s appeals process.

“The Council has been clear in its Delta Plan that we must improve the way water is diverted from the Delta,” said Executive Officer Jessica Pearson. “We encourage the Department to re-engage with the Council in early consultation, and ask all stakeholders to commit to engaging productively to address the issues that were raised.”

This is a big victory for opponents of Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels project — and indicates that the future of the tunnels project will depend largely on what Governor Elect Gavin Newson intends to do once he takes over from Brown in January.

Newsom said he plans to continue the California WaterFix project, but would prefer to see a one tunnel option, according to an interview LA Times columnist George Skelton conducted with Newsom in October:

Delta advocates celebrated DWR’s withdrawal of the certification as a victory, but said the Delta is still imperiled by the deal between Governor Jerry Brown, President Donald Trump, Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to increase water deliveries to corporate agribusiness at the expense of West Coast fisheries, the San Francisco Bay Delta ecosystem and the public trust.

“This is a great day for the Delta Protection Act,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “We are thrilled about DWR’s withdrawal from the consistency determination process.”

“But the Delta is still in danger,” she noted. “There is this WIIN Act deal between Governor Brown, Senator Feinstein, the GOP Congress, and the Trump Administration. While Feinstein’s staff continues to say the tunnels are not on the table, we know they are.”

“Otherwise she would not be working with lame duck leadership, and instead would be getting ready to create a sustainable water plan for California with new her Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives in January. Today is a good day for the San Francisco Bay-Delta and California. But it’s not over yet,” Barrigan-Parrilla concluded.

On November 8, the Delta Stewardship Council staff released a draft report finding that the California WaterFix is not consistent with the Delta Plan after considering the appeals filed by an array of organizations, Tribes and governments to the “certification of consistency” filed by the California Department of Water Resources.

“In light of claims raised by nine appellant groups, Council staff recommends that the Council conclude that substantial evidence does not exist in the record to support the Department’s findings that California WaterFix is consistent with the Delta Plan. Staff further recommends that the Council remand the matter to the Department for reconsideration, pursuant to Water Code section 85225.25,” according to the report.

The release of the staff report was then followed by a Council workshop in Sacramento on November 15 during which Council Chair Randy Fiorini and Council Member Frank Damrell suggested that DWR withdraw their controversial document.

“Fundamentally, my takeaways so far after reviewing the record, listening to the testimony at the October hearings, and after today, I think the Department has filed its certification of consistency before it was ready to demonstrate consistency with the Delta Plan…..  I would strongly encourage the Department to consider withdrawing the certification of consistency,” said Randy Fiorini, DSC Board Chair, at the end of the meeting.

The Delta Tunnels project would divert Sacramento River water from the North Delta through two giant tunnels to the South Delta to facilitate the export of Northern California water to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California water agencies. For more information, read my comprehensive report on the Delta Stewardship Council’s actions:…

Caleen Sisk, Chief and spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, pointed out the connections between the Delta Tunnels, Sites Reservoir and the Shasta Dam raise that the WIIN Act facilitates.

“The Twin Tunnels, Sites Reservoir, and the Shasta Dam raise ‘are all 1 Brown WaterFix project’ to get the Water Mongers more water to sell back to the communities, towns and cities,” she stated.

If constructed, the tunnels project would destroy West Coast fisheries and hasten the extinction of Sacramento River spring and winter chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon. The two massive tunnels would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers, according to tunnels opponents.