At an event at the Sacramento Press Club that I attended on December 18 entitled, “Jerry Brown, the Exit Interview,” Brown reflected on his five decades in public office, the state of political discourse in the country and the future of the Golden State.
After journalist and author Miriam Pawel and Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton asked Brown a number of wide-ranging questions, during the question and answer period, KCRA 3 asked him about what would happen to his two biggest projects, the Delta Tunnels and High Speed Rail, after he leaves the Governor’s Office in January.
“They’ll be built in a timely responsible way,” Brown said in reference to both projects. “There’s no real objection to the idea of a conveyance around the Delta,” said Brown, dismissing the massive opposition and pile of lawsuits by a plethora of counties, cities, Tribes, fishing groups, environmental justice advocates, Delta residents, family farmers, conservation groups and elected officials to the project. “The Delta will be destroyed unless we build some sort of peripheral canal or tunnel.”
The Governor also said those who fear that the water contractors will pump too much out of the Delta after the tunnels were constructed “would be constrained by our wise water laws.”
Details of ‘No Harm Agreement’ between DWR and Reclamation exposed
The day after Governor Brown said the Delta Tunnels will be built, documents released to the Planning and Conservation League via a California Public Records Act request revealed the details of a controversial No Harm Agreement” between the California Department of Water Resources and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation regarding the California WaterFix, according to Restore the Delta (RTD).
Also included in the document release was a “Letter of Dismissal,” a document demanding that specific water districts and local government agencies abandon their case-in-chiefs opposing WaterFix before the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). This was not previously reported in media accounts of the water deal cut between the Brown and Trump administrations,. You can read both documents here: https://www.restorethedelta.org/wp-content/uploads/Letter-Re-Dismissals-1.pdf
The “Letter of Dismissal” — a statement of DWR’s expectations of specific parties to withdraw from WaterFix hearings — does not indicate that the listed parties have agreed to the terms asserted by the Department of Water Resources within the letter itself, according to Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta.
“The ‘Letter of Dismissal’ by DWR’s Karla Nemeth addressed to specific parties participating in the WaterFix hearings reads like a “surrender Dorothy” demand – absolute in its insistence without any indication of interest in cooperation by the listed parties,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “It seems like Governor Brown’s final grand water bargain is an attempt to bully protesting parties into capitulation, and a presentation of alternative facts in side deals that do not match up with what is transpiring before the SWRCB regarding the future of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary.
She also noted that while the “No Harm Agreement” reads on the surface simply as a deal cut between DWR (the junior water rights holder) and the Bureau of Reclamation (the senior water rights holder), details contradict DWR’s case-in-chief before the State Water Resources Control for the WaterFix tunnels, calling the accuracy of the assumptions in the “No Harm Agreement” into question.
In the fourth paragraph under Explanatory Recitals, the agreement states:
“DWR and Reclamation submitted the joint petition to add points of diversion for the State Water Project “SWP” and Central Valley Project “CVP” to the California State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) for the California WaterFix (“CWF Change Petition”).“
“Yet, in their case-in-chief before the SWRCB, DWR and the Bureau have petitioned for a change-in-the-point of diversion permit to begin construction of the Delta tunnels, not an addition for points of diversion,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “An addition of diversion points for the SWP and the CVP would require the Brown and Trump administrations to seek new water rights from the Delta and would have required a different case presentation with different facts to the SWRCB.”
DWR’s argument has been that they already obtained the water rights for the project, despite proposing that the intakes should be located in new places with the Delta. RTD and other parties made the case that DWR’s permit to continue adding diversion capability to the State Water Project expired in December 2009, according to RTD.
Tim Stroshane , Restore the Delta’s Policy Analyst, commented on the significance of the “No Harm Agreement.
“The ‘No Harm Agreement’ reveals the Bureau asserting its seniority in the Delta to protect its water contractors’ deliveries from overreach by DWR’s Tunnels operations (assuming the project is built). These agreements undermine DWR’s case before the Water Board that they’re proceeding arm-in-arm with the Bureau on this project, when the agreements reveal that Reclamation and its CVP contractors view the Tunnels project with fear and hostility. There may not be any rush to surrender as DWR hopes,” Stroshane concluded.
Brown’s questionable ‘environmental legacy’
Unfortunately, the Delta Tunnels project is just one of many of Brown’s questionable environmental policies.
Brown’s real “environmental” legacy includes 21,000 new oil and gas drilling permits, Delta smelt on the brink of extinction (if not extinct in the wild), struggling winter and spring chinook runs, deal after deal with the federal government, including the exemption of California oil fields from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the worst air pollution in the nation right here in the Central Valley, record water exports out of the Delta and record Delta fish kills (Sacramento splittail), pollution trading, clearcutting forests, fake habitat restoration like at the Ballona Wetlands in Southern California, Proposition 1, the SoCal Gas Blowout… and the list goes on and on and on.
Brown’s main claim to fame, his “climate leadership,” consists of grandstanding at international climate conferences about unenforceable agreements largely based on pollution trading that benefits oil and gas companies and big corporations. Brown has also “denounced” the federal proposal to open up new federal oil and gas drilling leases.
However, the Governor’s Office press releases and most media outlets neglected to mention that Brown’s oil and gas regulators, at the same time that Brown portrays himself as an “opponent” of offshore drilling, approved 238 NEW offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases off Los Angeles and Ventura counties from 2012 to 2016. That’s increase of 17 percent, according to data released in a report issued by Fractracker Alliance in February 2017.
Then on June 20, 2018, Consumer Watchdog launched a web site that allows you to compare California offshore wells under the control of Governor Jerry Brown and President Donald Trump.
“Brown has called Trump’s federal offshore oil drilling short-sighed and reckless, but the site shows Brown controls four times more oil wells in state waters than those Trump controls in federal waters,” according to Liza Tucker, consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog.
Newsom needs to halt Delta Tunnels plan, break with Brown’s bad environmental policies
We need to put political pressure on the new Governor, Gavin Newson, to make sure that he does the right thing and breaks with the many bad environmental policies of Jerry Brown, including the Delta Tunnels. I will be covering Newsom’s appointments to key environmental posts and the actions he takes in the next several months.
In October, Newsom told George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times that he will keep building the California WaterFix, but would like to scale it back to one tunnel.
“I’d like to see a more modest proposal, but I’m not going to walk away. Doing nothing is not an option…. The status quo is not helping salmon,” Newsom said.
Then on January 10 at a press conference at the State Capitol to unveil his budget proposal, Governor Newsom said he is “committed to conveyance,” but will examine it with “a fresh set of eyes.” He also suggested that personnel changes could take place at the California Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board and regional water boards.
In a tweet the same day, John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), quipped: “Gavin Newson, Get rid of your headaches when it comes to water policy and start with a fresh, new team.”
Let’s hope that recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Tribal leaders, conservationists and environmental justice advocates are able to change Newsom’s mind on the California WaterFix and other key environmental issues.