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DELTA TUNNELS: Where are we now?

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The last week of events in fight against the Delta Tunnels has been exciting and complicated. And it may all come to a head this Wednesday, December 12.

To understand all the elements currently at play in the fight for the Delta, think of the child’s game, JENGA. As the blocks stack higher, and foundations are removed, the entire project is at risk of toppling over.

This is where we are now on Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels.

Block One – The Delta Stewardship Council

Last Friday, the Department of Water Resources sent a letter to the Delta Stewardship Council, formally withdrawing the Department’s certification of consistency for the California Water Fix was consistent with the Delta Plan, a standard the Delta Tunnels proposal must meet before moving forward.

After the November 15, 2018 consistency determination workshop Delta Stewardship Council Chair Randy Fiorini stated, “This project came to us before it was ready.  At this point, with the weaknesses identified, and obviously in my opinion, there’s more work to do.  I would strongly encourage the Department to consider withdrawing the certification of consistency.  If you do so choose to do that, let us know as soon as possible so we can resume early consultation.”

Immediately after the announcement of the consistency determination withdrawal on December 7, 2018, the Delta Stewardship Council released a press release in which Chair Fiorini stated, “During the appeals process this fall, several of the parties expressed a willingness to work toward resolving issues that were raised….The withdrawal of its Certification of Consistency for the California WaterFix now provides the opportunity to fully engage.”

Chair Fiorini’s comments refer to an ending of ex-parte communications, which made all communications with the Council public during the appeal process. A return to early consultation dismisses the work of the appellants and allows for negotiations between DWR and DSC staff to be handled behind closed doors. In effect, the Brown Administration has removed a block of the Jenga, while adding another block to the top, much in the same way that they are handling the backroom Voluntary Settlement Agreements for Phase I of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan.

Block Two – Voluntary Settlement Agreements

Last week, several environmental groups involved in the Voluntary Settlement Agreements to set new flow standards for Delta watershed rivers and tributaries,  sent a letter to Governor Brown indicating their disappointment that negotiation have not advanced enough to gain this coalition’s support or to satisfy legal requirements that must be met by the State Water Resources Control Board. In the letter they also noted that “the discussions related not only to Phase 1 and to Phase 2, but are also interconnected with negotiations for other decisions in which we have not been involved.” 

These interconnected negotiations center around Sacramento Valley Water users being willing to sell water for California Water Fix and to withdrawal from the permit hearing process currently underway before the State Water Resources Control Board. Governor Brown is seeking to replace Phase I of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan scheduled for a vote with the State Water Resources Control Board on December 12th with these Voluntary Settlement Agreements negotiated alongside the Delta tunnels.

The public process of the Consistency Determination and the nine-year public process for Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan Update are not the only items being relegated to secret negotiations by the Brown Administration.

Block Three – The WIIN Act

Senator Feinstein, GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy, the Trump Administration, and Governor Brown are working behind the scenes to pass the WIIN Act during the lame duck session of Congress.  Senator Feinstein had said on the floor of the Senate in 2016 of increased water pumping from the Delta, “These operational provisions are short term. They last just five years.”  Senate Session (4:19:51)

Presently, the WIIN Act looks to authorize additional money for construction of the Delta tunnels and new dams, in addition to removing Federal protections for over pumping the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary.

What we are seeing by the Brown Administration and Senator Feinstein is power politics at its worst. Just like removing and adding pieces to a Jenga, Governor Brown and Senator Feinstein are removing public processes — that include transparent evaluations of science, community impacts, and economics – and replacing them with backroom deals and secret negotiations.  They are using their power to force mid-twentieth-century water management on the next generation of Californians, regardless of what facts reveal about their faulty plans.

Neither Governor Brown nor Senator Feinstein will have to live with the economic or environmental consequences of their push to move water to industrial agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley, or for speculative development in Southern California.  The Delta tunnels and the raising of Shasta Dam will not sustain our water supplies with climate change.  In fact, between extreme construction emissions, and the methane emissions produced by dams, their pet projects of tunnels and dams will exacerbate the impacts of climate change on Californians, and will be dry over half the time due to drought.

Governor Brown’s master water plan for California is so bad that it cannot withstand public scrutiny and crumbles when facts are presented in quasi-judicial and official public hearings. So the Governor and Senator Feinstein have to hide the details.  That alone should sound a warning bell for all Californians.

Contact: [email protected] 209-479-2053

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