By: Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla
As our readers are well aware Senator Dianne Feinstein’s drought bill (SB 2533) now has a companion bill in the House of Representatives. Congressman John Garamendi introduced HR 5247 this week which completely mirrors Senator Feinstein’s legislation. What our readers do not know is that Congressman Garamendi has attempted a full court press on Restore the Delta to support this legislation beginning back in February.
When Congressman Garamendi released his draft legislation, he approached Restore the Delta to support the bill. After reading the bill and being in conversation with environmental experts, fishery experts and Delta water district attorneys, we concluded that HR 5247 was another bad water extraction bill aimed at delivering water from the Delta to just 3 of California’s 58 drought stricken counties. This acceleration of water extraction for the Delta negates the conservation elements touted by Congressman Garamendi and Senator Feinstein.
However, because we believe in collaboration and dialogue, Restore the Delta organized a call between Congressman Garamendi and local Delta water attorneys, county water experts, retired elected officials, environmentalists, and fishery experts. Our concerns over the bill were conveyed clearly, and suggested language changes were submitted to Congressman Garamendi. About a week after the meeting, I personally reached out to his staff to see what would happen next. I was told that the Congressman had the suggested language changes and would be handling the legislation.
From that first week in March, until the Congressman announced the release of HR 5247 on May 16th, we never heard another word from the Congressman or his staff.
Monday morning, Restore the Delta completed a rapid read of the bill and doubled back with our environmental colleagues to confirm our findings. HR 5247 is a mirror copy of Senator Feinstein’s S 2533. Our concerns were not addressed; and a respected Congressional leader from the Delta has taken on the cause of accelerated water extraction from a collapsing Bay-Delta estuary.
Since the release of the bill, we heard directly from the Congressman himself and several of his staff members. We appreciate their efforts to resume discussion of the bill and believe firmly that sometimes you have to talk your way through a disagreement. However, Restore the Delta has been told by the Congressman verbally and more recently in writing that we are not serious about solving California’s water problems if we fail to support his position. He is wrong about that, but we anticipate he will release a letter with a statement referring to groups that don’t want solutions.
This is where the metaphorical boxing gloves come off.
We cannot and will not support Congressman Garamendi or Senator Feinstein’s bills for increasing water extraction from the Delta for the following reasons:
1) We are entering the fifth year of drought and Delta water quality protections were rolled back 15 times over the last two years. Water quality standards for the Delta are already violated on a regular and continuous basis.
2) The State Water Resources Control Board and the United States Environmental Protection Agency have failed to update the Delta Water Quality Control Plan in a timely manner. They are 20 years behind with updating standards, and litigation is now moving forward, spearheaded by our Bay Area environmental colleagues.
3) All Delta fisheries are in serious decline due to 30 years of over pumping compounded by five straight years of drought. Remember, the pumps were never shut off one day during these last five years. Pumping was slowed down only 3% of the time to protect fisheries in 2014 and 2015. Low pumping levels were set in place because the estuary was dangerously close to becoming salted up due to lack of inadequate outflows into the San Francisco Bay, threatening water quality for Metropolitan Water District of California. Fishery management agencies are enforcing pumping restrictions more closely this year because they are on the verge of rendering species extinct.
4) The Pacific Fisheries Management Council review of the Feinstein/Garamendi bill lay to rest the assertions of Congressman Garamendi that their bills are scientific and protective of salmon.
5) The complex provisions of Title 3 of the bill are likely to legislatively override existing Endangered Species Act biological opinions protecting salmon, Delta smelt and other endangered species.
6) Congressman Garamendi’s asserts to us that “monitoring equipment” can determine if Delta smelt are near the export pumps. This is inaccurate. Fishery experts have made it clear to the Congressman that no equipment can access with scientific certainty as to whether Delta smelt can be tracked due to their perilously low numbers. Remember Westlands Water District and Metropolitan Water District were busy in Washington D.C. in 2015 attempting to delist the Delta smelt in an attempt to lift Delta pumping restrictions. The Delta smelt—that tiny, tiny fish—is our region’s protection from full water exports that will destroy water quality beyond repair for every other commercial, business, human, wildlife and recreational use.
7) The Independent Science Panel recently completed a rigorous analysis of the Biological Assessment for California WaterFix. Their findings apply to the Congressman’s bill: the scientific findings on the outcomes of diverting more water from the Delta are very uncertain. To pass this legislation off as based on sound science is simply disingenuous. Fishery experts are clear that we cannot determine with accuracy if Delta smelt are near the pumps. Moreover, the Congressman’s overall plan for the Delta and water management will fill the proposed Delta tunnels with the 1.3 million additional acre feet needed to make them financially viable for the water
8) The courts agree with Restore the Delta and our partners, not Congressman Garamendi, regarding what the Delta needs. Yesterday, contrary to the Delta Stewardship Council’s claim that the court upheld the Delta Plan except for two needed refinements, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny put a bullet in the heart of the Delta Plan. Judge Kenny ruled that the Delta Plan failed to include quantified or otherwise measurable targets for reducing Delta reliance, reduced environmental harm from invasive species, restoring more natural flows, and increased water supply reliability, in accordance with the Delta Reform Act. He also ruled that the Plan failed to provide a flow policy that includes “quantified or otherwise measurable targets” and failed to promote options for water conveyance and storage systems. In other words, Congressman Garamendi’s drought legislation is seeking to undo what was described as necessary in a California court this week – flow policies that reduce Delta reliance!
For ten years, Restore the Delta, the Environmental Water Caucus, and the broader environmental community have written extensively about California reaching the end of an economic era based on water extraction. It is common knowledge that the Delta watershed is oversubscribed five times before we factor in extended drought from climate change.
To place our recommended solutions all in one easy-to-find place, the Environmental Water Caucus has published its findings for over eight years, calling for water recycling, conservation, storm water capture, groundwater cleanup, cistern development, and watershed restoration. The Pacific Institute is the international leader on the soft path of water management for dealing with declining watersheds in a changing climate. They criticized proposals from Congress to wipe out decades of progress on sustainable water management with these drought bills.
Our partners at Friends of the River have written numerous letters on behalf of the Environmental Water Caucus and other environmental groups to CA WaterFix, the Resources Agency, Federal agencies, and the State Water Resources Control Board, insisting that they evaluate alternatives to California water management in lieu of the Delta tunnels.
NRDC has written extensively on the possibilities of creating millions of acre feet of new water in California through these same conservation, water technology practices.
Restore the Delta, in a more humble way, has pushed its Better Solution video and platform to government agencies, elected officials, and the press since 2012. In fact, our 2013 documentary Over Troubled Waters, covers the conservation alternatives to excessive Delta exports and the Delta tunnels.
Yet, despite our coalition’s repeated requests, state officials have never evaluated these alternatives in good faith. And now it galls us thoroughly that one of our own Delta Congressmen not only ignores our years of extensive work putting forward constructive and genuine solutions, but threatens to paint us as not offering a solution because we refuse to fall in line with his bad legislation.
California is reaching the end of an economic era based on water extraction. Congressman Garamendi, Senator Feinstein, and Governor Brown have been surrounded by advisors and supporters who fail to grasp that water is a limited resource. In order for California to achieve a sustainable economy and environment, water management can no longer be based on extraction. The old way of doing things will not hold, and our leaders of the last forty years sadly cannot seem to adapt to this changing world.