For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 30, 2014
Contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; [email protected]; Twitter: @shopcraft;
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053 [email protected]; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta
Ignores “Co-Equal Goals” Requirement; End-Runs EPA
*** TODAY in Oakland, Governor Jerry Brown announces he will rename the Bay Delta Conservation Plan tunnels (BDCP) to “California Water Fix.” The separate habitat restoration part will be called “California Eco-Restore.” ****
Sacramento, CA- Restore the Delta (RTD) and other opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build massive underground water tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom sustainable farms, salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today responded to Gov. Brown’s abandonment of habitat restoration in his Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) tunnels project, saying the new plan violates the statutory ‘co-equal goals’, end-runs the EPA and federal scientists who refused to issue permits for the project. The governor has called the massive change “technical,” but opponents said it results from fatal flaws in the BDCP and the lack of funding for the restoration formerly proposed under the BDCP.
The new maneuver ignores the judgment of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Delta Independent Science Board (DISB), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after scientific reviews that the tunnels project didn’t meet minimum Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Clean Water Act (CWA) standards. The agencies found in particular that the project would jeopardize, rather than help recover key species, and violate anti-degradation laws to protect the Delta waterways as fishable, swimmable and drinkable.
The change also results from the failure of the BDCP to identify the required funding to meet the financial assurances provisions of the ESA. The BDCP relied heavily on future unidentified state bonds, and state and federal budget allocations. Though a key promise made to pass the 2014 Water Bond was that it would not fund the BDCP, the administration has now indicated it does intend to take Prop. 1 funds for restoration to attempt to address the damage from overpumping the Delta, which the tunnels would compound.
“After 9 years and $250 million dollars, creating a stack of planning documents over 27 feet tall, the governor has admitted that the BDCP could not protect Delta species and therefore could not meet HCP and NCCP standards,” said Bob Wright, senior counsel for Friends of the River. “The BDCP, a plan that conserved little and would cost ratepayers and taxpayers over 25 Billion dollars to subsidize giant unsustainable agribusiness, is now even worse for the people, the environment, and sustainable water policies.”
The BDCP was previously designed as an HCP/NCCP to purportedly “…restore and protect ecosystem health, water supply, and water quality within a stable regulatory framework.” As an HCP/NCCP, the BDCP was required to protect endangered species and prevent their decline.
“The plan has now shifted from a proposal to protect 56 Species, and over 100,000 acres of habitat, to a straight water grab that would take up to half of the freshwater from the north end of the Delta,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, RTD executive director. “The governor plans to do an end-run around the public, the federal agencies that flunked the project, and the Legislature, with a fast-tracked section 7 process for permitting the tunnels. Under section 7, the project only needs to mitigate for direct project impacts, and does not have to meet a recovery standard.”
“The tunnels would create permanent drought conditions in the Delta by diverting up to half of the freshwater flows, which will increase salinity intrusion into the Delta and help push several species to extinction,” Barrigan-Parrilla said.
They will continue to argue that the new water diversions in the north would be screened, unlike the existing south Delta diversions, and thus a benefit to fish. But this technology is yet to even be designed, and the BDCP operations plan is still to use the unscreened south Delta pumps roughly half of the time. No credible explanation has ever been provided as to why upgrades to the south Delta diversions, as described in CalFed would not reduce take of Delta smelt. Now, the new northern intakes would instead imperil the fall run salmon.
In this drought year, it is obvious there is not enough water in the system to meet species needs and satisfy all existing, let alone future, water demands from urban and agricultural uses. The tunnels, unlike water conservation, would not create any new water and would substantially degrade water quality, impairing the Clean Water Act mandate for the estuary to be fishable, swimmable and drinkable. Millions of Bay-Delta residents will be left with polluted drinking water. With the tunnels in place, the water export contractors will continue to push any remaining fish over the brink of extinction, just as they’ve done this year by constantly pressuring the SWRCB to roll back the most minimal protections for fish and wildlife.
The water takers want new intakes upriver from where the polluted giant agricultural waste drains from the San Joaquin Valley via the San Joaquin River. While MWD’s water treatment costs could decrease from taking the fresh water out of the north Delta away from the most polluted runoff, the massive tunnels will starve the Delta of the fresh water it needs.
California must save water and create jobs through conservation, storage, and effective drought planning. The governor still won’t require agricultural conservation, even in the fourth year of the drought. The new BDCP is even more likely to cause substantial degradation of the Bay Delta estuary than the prior iteration of the project. This new project configuration will mean far less new habitat. The mitigation habitat would be needed to try to reduce reverse flows on Georgianna Slough caused by the existing south Delta pumps in combination with the new Tunnels. The new proposal may include as little as 180 acres of tidal marsh restoration. The administration has said it will continue moving forward on restoration, separately from BDCP, possibly through the California Water Action Plan (CWAP). However, the CWAP has no funding. The public will be required to fund the BDCP to the tune of $8 billion.
“The tunnels project is now a simple water grab for industrial mega-growers,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “You cannot have successful habitat or restore fisheries while draining the Delta of its main source of fresh water. The governor has now abandoned restoration of the Delta as a co-equal goal of building the tunnels. BDCP is now a naked ‘tunnels-only’ water grab for the unsustainable mega-farms in Westlands and Kern.”
“Without completing environmental reviews, or responding to the thousands of comments received, the governor is embarking on a ‘new strategy’ for his tunnels project,” said Wright. “The State says it is committed to habitat restoration, yet little or no progress has been made over the last ten years on the required mitigation for existing operations of the SWP and CVP. How can we trust any new promises?”
“The project is running out of money. The Brown Administration has spent $250 million on a planning process that has made the project even worse for 99% of the people of California, who will get the bill, lose their salmon fisheries and get no new water,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “The new plan is a giant step backward. If it goes through, this massive project’s boosters will be able to build these tunnels without having to do anything to protect our wildlife and waters — and will neatly sidestep input from the public. This backdoor process will waste more taxpayer money and kill more Delta species like endangered salmon and smelt.”
“We must change how the public’s water is used. While urban families are being required to cut water use by 25%, billionaire Stuart Resnick and others continue to plant thousands of acres of new almond trees during the drought. Mr. Resnick uses as much water for his almonds as the amount of water 38 million Californian's are now required to conserve. While farmers make their own decisions on what to plant, the public is paying the price for poor decisions made by greedy mega-growers, who plant permanent crops where there is no water. That is not sustainable. The tunnels would subsidize unsustainable agriculture,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.