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News from Restore the Delta: 3/17/14

“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
– Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

The view from behind the eight ball
From barriers to tunnels
Getting by with a lot of help from our friends

The view from behind the eight ball

U. S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was at the C. W. “Bill” Jones Pumping Plant last week to hear from the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority and Resources Secretary John Laird about how bad things are for exporters as a result of the drought, and by the end of the day, she was supporting the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Ten people from the Delta – in addition to Restore the Delta employees – showed up at C. W. “Bill” Jones Pumping Plant to wave signs and talk with reports.

Down in Firebaugh next week, they’re having a water rally and news conference on March 18 to protest cutbacks in south-of-Delta water deliveries. In addition to four local water districts, the rally is sponsored by the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, the California Farm Water Coalition, and the Latino Water Coalition. Lunch is provided. “We are fighting,” says the flyer, “for our communities, our jobs, our farms, our future!”

Then on March 19, at 10 a.m., at Fresno City Hall, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a field hearing on “Immediate and Long-Term Relief for Drought-Impacted San Joaquin Valley.” The Committee will hear once again about how federal regulations put the needs of a 3-inch fish over people. Restore the Delta will be there to make public comments and to rally before-hand on how excessive water pumping from the Delta (and the proposed Delta tunnels) harm Delta farming communities and fisheries.

Expect crowds at both of these meetings.

Why aren’t people in the Delta getting that kind of face time with federal policymakers? For starters because they don’t always show in large enough numbers outside of the Delta area demanding something better — whether at rallies, State Water Resource Control Board hearings, or Congressional hearings held within California. We hope that a number of Delta residents and supporters will be able to turn out for the hearing in Fresno on Wednesday to talk about how the Delta has been over pumped year after year, how the drought will negatively impact the Delta recreation, fishing, and agricultural economies, and how the tunnels will destroy the region, fisheries, the estuary, and the SF Bay.

From Barriers to Tunnel

Faced with a drought that everyone should have planned for, policymakers have been scrambling for two months to come up with fixes, and most of them involve the over-taxed Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta Estuary. Now the Sacramento Bee reports that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) is planning to put temporary rock barriers on Sutter Slough and Steamboat Slough on the Sacramento River, and on False River on the San Joaquin.

Restore the Delta has not been able to return all phones calls or emails regarding this issue, and we can only help to a limited degree because information, plans and communications from DWR have been incomplete at best. We recommend that Delta community members call Paul Helliker’s office at the Department of Water Resources for more information.

Just last year, DWR and the Bureau of Reclamation notified contractors that water deliveries would be reduced south of the Delta. They were anticipating a possible dry year. OK so far. But then they turned around and exported over 800,000 acre feet more water than they said they would be able to deliver. We could use that water in Northern California reservoirs now. Or flowing throughout the Delta for salinity control this summer, when instead we may end up with zero outflow through and from the Delta.

Bad water quality in the Delta is bad for everybody, from 3-inch fish on up. Agriculture, recreation, navigation, and fisheries all suffer. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley cry “Foul” when they have to fallow land, but Delta communities will also feel the impacts of DWR’s drought mismanagement in 2013. Now the drought has the state trying to engineer an “emergency” fix in our backyards when they gambled and lost managing the state’s water supply. Never mind that California experiences drought 40% of the time. This is why Restore the Delta has been advocating for water quality and quantity for the Delta since our first day of business.

The Governor’s drought declaration and the Legislature’s drought relief package include financial assistance for communities affected by the drought. Of course Federal dollars were also made available for SJ Valley communities like Firebaugh. Well, here’s a question: “Where’s the drought financial package for the Delta?” This is what we are urging Delta residents and business owners to be asking, whether in meetings between reclamation districts and DWR, or at events like in Fresno on Wednesday.

To our followers who are a bit shy about participating in self-advocacy, imagine what the Delta will be like if construction of the tunnels should begin. Imagine the impacts of the coffer dams that will be built in the Delta for construction of the tunnels – not to mention all the other adverse impacts that will not be mitigated. Have you looked at the BDCP or its EIR? Have you noted that all residents in Byron will have to be relocated, or they will otherwise be exposed to great cancer risks during construction?

What steps is the State or Federal government taking to mitigate all these impacts?

As few as possible – just as they will if the BDCP comes to pass.

So, here is what you can do. Sign and share our petition to Governor Brown. We are after 100,000 signatures. Write a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Jewell sharing your opposition to the BDCP. Attend the Congressional Field Hearing in Fresno Wednesday, March 19, 2014 and make your voice heard! Go to the BDCP website; pick a section of the BDCP plan or EIR, read it, and send in a comment. Volunteer at our office to organize events.

It is time for all hands on deck. It’s time to fight back with great energy!

Getting by with a lot of help from our friends

If you have been reading the newspapers, you are probably aware of two big court cases that are positive turns for the Delta.
Turning first to litigation sponsored by Central and South Delta Water Agencies on behalf of the entire Delta, lead attorney Thomas Keeling (Freeman, D’Aiuto, Pierce, Gurev, Keeling & Wolf) reports:

“As you probably already know, we prevailed in the Court of Appeal on the Temporary Entry Permit (“TEP”) litigation. On March 13 the Court issued its 44-page decision…

Delta landowners prevailed on both the drilling and non-drilling entry issues. First, the Majority Opinion affirmed the trial court’s “No-Drilling” Order from which DWR had appealed. Second, the Majority Opinion granted our petition to reverse the trial court’s “Environmental” Entry Order which would have allowed DWR personnel, vehicles, and equipment to enter Delta lands over a one-year period for the purpose of conducting biological, botanical, archaeological, and other “surveys” to support the BDCP.

With respect to both trial court orders, the Majority Opinion’s reasoning comes down to this: (1) the interests DWR sought to obtain amounted to easements or other compensable interests in real property; (2) as such, government can acquire those interests only through a proper eminent domain action; and (3) to condone DWR’s attempted use of the TEP procedure under these circumstances would be to condone an unlawful taking of private property.

Of course, the Department of Water Resources is posturing that this court cast really does not matter because they are “proceeding pursuant to the eminent domain process to conduct geotechnical drilling.” But as Mr. Keeling explained to Restore the Delta and area reporters, “There are no pending eminent domain proceedings by DWR in connection with BDCP access to Delta lands or, for that matter, with respect to the BDCP at all.”

This does not mean that DWR will stop. A Supreme Court filing by DWR may happen. Thanks to Mr. Keeling’s lead on this litigation and timely communications, we will be able to keep you posted on future events.

The other big court case, of course was the 9th Circuit Court’s upholding of the biological opinions for the Delta Smelt. This complex litigation has been going on for years (as has the land entry litigation), and has been deftly handled by NRDC, EarthJustice, and The Bay Institute. NRDC’s Kate Poole, who has worked countless hours on the litigation, explains the significance of the ruling best.

The court reaffirmed the facts and recognized that science needs to guide our management of the Delta in order for our farms, cities and wildlife to thrive.

Taking more water out of the Delta is not going to solve our problems. The emergency drought is a state-wide problem that affects all of us – from farmers to fisherman to the average citizen. And it’s the drought, not the Delta, that’s affecting the water supply this year. That’s why Delta fisherman and farmers support these protections – because their jobs and livelihoods depend on it.

While we can’t make it rain, we can take charge of our water use by investing in smart water practices that protect and preserve our water supply. In order to ensure a healthy, productive fishing and farming industry in the Delta, the State needs to invest in a 21st-centurty water system that can that deliver clean, healthy water supplies for generations to come. That means employing common sense water-saving measures including everything from water conservation in our homes to drought-resistant regional water supply strategies like water recycling to advanced irrigation systems on our farms. At a time when we cannot afford to let a drop go to waste, these steps will ensure a healthy water supply today and more resilient cities and farms tomorrow.

Today’s ruling recognizes the importance of the Delta’s fishing and farming community, which deserves to have its livelihood preserved. We now look forward to working with the State to advance real long-term solutions to our water needs.

We are grateful to all three environmental organizations, South and Central Delta Water Agencies, and the Freeman Firm for their efforts on behalf of Delta fisheries and communities.

To read more about the biological opinions ruling, click here for Chris Austin’s fine blog, which we believe all Delta lovers should be reading.

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