STOCKTON, CA–Delta tunnels proponents have moved quickly this week, scheduling the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) hearing on the State Water Project contract extension just two days before its scheduled date: tomorrow, August 30 at 8 AM, as noted in a recent email communication from Kathy Cole of Metropolitan Water District’s Sacramento Office. The hearing date precedes finalized amendments to the State Water Contract regarding California WaterFix and was not noticed to the public.
The State Water Contract extension includes provisions for a fifty-year contract agreement for water allocations and deliveries from the State Water Project, despite the state just releasing a report on climate change that cites the need for greater Delta outflows to combat salinity intrusion into the Delta for the region’s four million residents.
According to an email from Metropolitan Water District on Tuesday explaining the significance of this hearing:
“…[T]he Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) has rescheduled the hearing required under Section 147.5 of the Water Code. Existing law requires, at least 60 days prior to the final approval of the renewal or extension of a long-term water supply contract between Department of Water Resources (DWR) and any State Water Project (SWP) contractor, DWR must present the terms, conditions and details relative to the contracts at an informational hearing before the JLBC and relevant policy and fiscal committees of both houses. The Legislature is not required to take action on the SWP contract extension as the statutory requirement requires only an informational hearing take place.”
For the tunnels project to move forward, the water code requires legislative oversight through an informational hearing. In other words, simply holding the hearing allows tunnels proponents to proceed with State Water Project contract extensions. However, the legislature will not have access to CA WaterFix contract amendments as part of the State Water Project prior to the hearing. Nor will the legislature have access to a financial plan, a cost-benefit analysis, or ratepayer impacts report. These missing pieces to understanding the economic scope of CA WaterFix is extremely troubling for California taxpayers and water ratepayers.
In addition to rushing the hearing without any public notice, Assembly Member Richard Bloom is now sponsoring a last minute gut and amend bill, AB 2649—a piece of legislation that would sunset the requirement for holding the JLBC meeting altogether. Instead, the State Water Contractors’ only requirement to proceed would be to present information on the contract extension to the JLBC ten days prior to any contract finalization. Presently, 60-day notice is required for a public hearing. Furthermore, AB 2649 does not clearly indicate the full path for any committee oversight.
Confusing matters further, in the last 24 hours staff members for Speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon, and Senate President pro tempore, Toni Atkins, have told several members of the public that the hearing is not scheduled for Thursday, August 30, 2018.
Executive Director for Restore the Delta Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla made the following statement:
“Members of our state’s legislative leadership have failed us this week. The Delta tunnels proposal is the state’s second largest public works project in California history that will impact not only the four million people living in the Delta, but all Californians. Instead of putting their constituents first, these legislators have chosen to do Metropolitan Water District’s bidding by facilitating an under-wraps hearing at the eleventh hour, without any proper public notice. And if that weren’t enough, the backup plan is to change the rules of oversight and eliminate the hearing, just in case it can’t be pushed through before the legislative session ends.
“It is this exact behavior—the subversion of transparency, and good government processes—that causes everyday voters to have such anger and distrust toward elected officials. Even if officials support the Delta tunnels, they should be motivated to know how much the project will cost and what kind of amendments the State Water Project contract will entail. Without this information, how can elected officials execute the duties which they were elected to handle, including but not limited to providing proper public oversight?
“Instead of government transparency, we are seeing backroom wheeling and dealing to push through the tunnels and to distribute political favors for California water’s network of good old boys.”