For Immediate Release: June 27, 2017
Nora Kovaleski, 408-806-6470, [email protected]
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta, 209-479-2053, [email protected]
Biological Opinion for Delta Tunnels a Milestone?
“Not so fast,” say Delta protection advocates
Stockton, CA–Yesterday, Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District issued a statement celebrating the federal biological opinions for CA WaterFix as “an important milestone” that brings the project one step closer to completion.
Not so fast say Delta water, community, and fishery advocates.
“The federal government has only released a biological opinion on the construction of the tunnels—the public will have to wait for future biological opinions on the intakes and operations of the project,” explains Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “In essence, they’re asking contractors to commit to paying for construction without knowing how the projects will be operated and how much water can be exported.”
Though the environmental impacts attributed to the operation and intakes of the tunnels are missing from the federal biological opinion, Kightlinger’s official statement markets the tunnels as a solution to “reduce conflicts with our native species.”
Conservation Advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, Jeff Miller says,
“It’s disappointing to have federal agencies claim this disastrous water diversion project will not jeopardize salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and other endangered fish and wildlife, when fisheries experts and biologists have demonstrated that less water diversion, not more, is needed to restore the health of the Bay Delta. At least the so-called California WaterFix is appropriately named—the fix is clearly in and agencies which are supposed to safeguard our fish and wildlife are prepared to give permits for a project which will decimate our native fish runs, with completely inadequate mitigation.”
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta expands upon the politics of the permitting process noting,
“Metropolitan Water District staff have told their member retail water districts that water sales will be used to fund bond repayment. Yet, the biological opinions from yesterday do not address construction and approval of the new intakes or how much water will be delivered to MWD, or any of the other CA WaterFix special interest water districts, including Kern County Water Agency, Westlands, or Santa Clara Valley Water District.
“With Metropolitan Water District spearheading the process hand-in-hand with the Brown Administration, these special interest water districts continue to move ahead with votes scheduled for September as to whether they will commit to paying for the Delta tunnels. These quasi-public agencies are not holding public vetting sessions on the merits and risks of the project. They all have failed to ask ratepayers—especially municipal water users—if they are willing to pay more for water. It’s fair to say that financial planning for the Delta tunnels under Governor Brown and Jeff Kightlinger’s leadership is akin to the U.S. Senate’s healthcare proposal. A small group is working behind closed doors to make decisions that will create truly negative environmental and financial consequences for the majority of Californians, and the public is left outside of the process.
“Southern California water ratepayers and property taxpayers are the backstop for about half the repayment of the $17 billion in bonds. MWD staff has scheduled a board workshop on August 22, 2017, giving member agencies only a few weeks to review the financial plan for the second largest and most expensive infrastructure project in California with their own boards. There will be no general meetings with Southern California water users. Worse, if any of these agencies should default during an extended drought because water isn’t available to sell, California taxpayers will be the ones on the hook for repayment. Yet, this project is moving forward by decree from Governor Brown with the public having no idea of the true costs.”