I hadn’t eaten anything but a fried egg since about 6 am when finally around 9 pm we (RTD staffers) found a pizza joint in an adorable spruced up downtown Concord. We had just survived a depressing public meeting at the Contra Costa Water District (CCWD).
One of our staff joked that “water board”-ing can be a form of torture. That’s what this meeting certainly felt like. That is why we also have such sincere gratitude for our 50 followers who came out, participated, supported us, and stayed to clean up the process so that we could travel to the next “water board” –ing event.
Showing up was necessary, but still not pleasant. CCWD had just finalized a “settlement” with the California Department of Water Resources that took them out of the fight against the Delta Tunnels, and to most in the audience, sold out neighboring communities in the Delta.
We were there so the board members knew how their ratepayers and people in the region felt about the settlement.
Board staff presented the agreement, a done deal negotiated without public notice, as an “insurance policy” to protect the district IF the Delta Tunnels were ever built. But the board wanted to emphasize they have been a long-term participant in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan since 2007. And that they have never taken a position in support of the CA WaterFix. It was a statement of self-absolution that the audience did not buy.
Under the settlement, CCWD will get fresh water from the Sacramento River delivered directly to their system, either through a new straw built into the Tunnels, or through deliveries using East Bay MUD pipes. In exchange, the District dropped their legal objections to the WaterFix/Tunnels.
The CCWD board was respectful and listened to public comments. They don’t support the tunnels and just wanted to protect their water users. But there was an element of embarrassment and spin about the settlement going on. General Manager of the District (coincidentally named Jerry Brown) seemed desperate to defend the Board’s good judgment. He emphasized what a tough position a water district like CCWD is in because it only draws its water from the Delta. That these folks have a duty to protect their ratepayers is understandable.
But what about every other Delta community, recreational users of the Delta, homeowners on the water facing decreasing property values, and all the environmental services that a healthy SF Bay-Delta Estuary provides? By striking a secret deal, CCWD had jumped in line to put their straw in the Tunnels ahead of other Delta communities. It was depressing to see once loyal members of the anti-tunnels coalition being bought off and neutralized through a backroom deal. We aren’t the only ones who thought so.
Settlement opponents were the clear majority of public speakers. They were informed and articulate. The most impassioned speakers spoke about how this agreement would only increase the eastward movement of salt water into the Delta, past where farmlands were already being taken out of production due to the salinity of irrigation water. To say Contra Costa County farmers were not pleased with this agreement is putting it mildly.
A couple of whoppers told by the Board were instantly shouted down by the audience. One whopper was that this agreement did not make the district an “upstream” exporter, though it clearly does. The second whopper was that the agreement would have no negative impact on water quality for the Delta. Someone in the audience pointed out that they wouldn’t have sought a settlement if there were no negative impacts associated with moving pumping from Tracy to up on the Sacramento River near Clarksburg. Talking point #2, also untrue. Whopper #3, CCWD’s new intake would have no construction impacts on the Delta – as if they would not be a party to the new intake.
Nobody bought this spin and they were corrected swiftly. Many speakers asked the Board if they really believed the state would keep its promises to deliver their fresh water project once they got permits for the Tunnels.
One interesting point made by CCWD’s Jerry Brown was that their settlement is the first admission by DWR that shows how bad the project is and that it will require mitigation. He argued that now every interest in the Delta should seek a settlement with the state, since now they have admitted that the Tunnels will create harms requiring mitigation. This seems like a dangerous strategy based largely on trusting Tunnels petitioning agencies to keep their promises to Delta communities. It is a roll of the dice.
CCWD Board members also explained that they did not believe that the Delta Tunnels would ever get built due to a lack of a credible financing plan, explaining that the Central Valley Project contractors had no financing plan in the works.
We then drove to San Jose for the next morning’s meeting of the San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority which included representatives of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
At the San Luis Delta-Mendota meeting we advised the Santa Clara Valley Water Board members on the San Luis board to “watch your wallets.” We reminded them that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association plans to litigate over any increased parcel taxes not approved by a 2/3 majority ratepayer vote as required under Prop 13.
We also warned them that their ratepayers will not line up for a project that won't actually provide more water. While the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) staff may call the Delta Tunnels the path to a reliable water supply, it is an overly expensive project for the status quo, $500 million to $1.2 billion for starters. We warned them not to ask their ratepayers to pay for San Luis 's share. And especially not Westlands’ share. The fact is that San Luis and Westland (who were to put up 40% of the funding for the project) may not have the money, especially after the SEC fine and being put on “credit watch” by one agency.
And that’s the long and the short of it with these special interest water districts. No financial plan, no additional water, all built on a house of cards.
Oh, and now there’s a new Federal probe of how the California Department of Water Resources has misused Federal grants by creating a slush fund for CA WaterFix. The Tunnels aren’t just bad for the environment, fisheries, farmers, communities, and urban ratepayers, they are starting to look like a truly crooked enterprise. What a waste of the public’s time and resources when we have real water challenges to solve!