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Delta Flows: A Day For California History Books. But What’s Next?

When scholars of California history and California water review the decisions our state leaders made to plan for the impacts from climate change, they will look back at May 2, 2019 as the pivotal date in our state’s water planning processes.  As the Department of Water Resources, under Governor Newsom’s direction, rescinded permits for California WaterFix from the State Water Resources Control Board, a decision was made to begin new water planning processes with the intention to make California water resilient in the decades ahead, while providing better protections for the Delta and Delta communities.

While the vast majority of our followers recognize that the decision to end the twin tunnels is a huge victory for the Delta and the people of California, a minority remains skeptical that positive change can be brought forward in California to solve our centuries (yes centuries) of water wars.

For our skeptical friends, we understand why you feel the way you do.

The power imbalances and outright hassles that Delta residents have lived through in political, procedural, administrative and legal processes regarding water management, tunnel planning, levee upgrades, the Delta Plan, land use decisions, and eminent domain are all too real.  It was just a year ago that Southern California Water District leaders were busy collaborating and directing Southern California and San Joaquin Congressional Representatives who wanted to strip Delta residents of their due process rights to litigate over any potential mismanagement from WaterFix, or operations of the State Water and Central Valley Projects.  Such an attack on our local right to redress grievances through the courts against the government was simply un-American.

Delta landowners have fought through litigation questionable tactics regarding land entry.  Restore the Delta has litigated against the Delta Stewardship Council over the Delta Plan, and DWR regarding their efforts to “validate” their right to build the tunnels. Our partners are litigating over fisheries, and pattern and practices by the State Water Resources Control Board for allowing water exports during times of extreme drought.  Other partners are still litigating with Metropolitan Water District regarding their purchase of the Delta Islands.

In sum total, the lawsuits, the years of blame-the-victim propaganda directed at Delta communities, the exclusion of landowners and Delta residents from planning processes, the failure to acknowledge the existence of urban Delta environmental justice and tribal communities, and the repeated legal maneuverings to weaken fishery protections (which protect water quality for all Delta residents), have created in our communities, understandably, a certain amount of battle fatigue, and solidified belief that everything will always remain exactly the same – Delta communities under siege.

It’s true that too often bureaucracies remain the same, changing ever so slowly, year after year, decade after decade, over centuries.

Until the moment of significant change. Like the end of the twin tunnels.

Water exporters, like Metropolitan Water District, Kern County Water Agency, Westlands, and Santa Clara Valley Water District, still have outsized influence on political leadership throughout the state.  They still have deep pockets.  They still have water export goals based on pre-climate change water supplies, which were already over promised five-fold.

But we have facts.  Good will.  And the hearts and minds of most Californians as our support.

So what is next? And how do we respond?

A dozen years of BDCP/WaterFix processes have left those in our communities a bit distressed.  We have heard several times over the last few days from supporters and colleagues that people were numb, pinching themselves, because they did not believe that the twin tunnels were no longer a project.

One or two even yelled at us for expressing joy.

For those who care the most, there is a certain weariness, a distrust that dialogues and engaging in new processes will change the ultimate goals of the water exporters.

One reason we see this situation differently at Restore the Delta is because our staff always believed that we would win a major victory, like we did on May 2, 2019. We anticipated this day for at least six years.

It is why we have been relentless in our work ethic and in our day-to-day activities.

We were prepared mentally for the day that we would have a big win because we have always had complete faith in the rightness of our cause.

This does not mean we naively believe that our water problems are all solved.  We have written over the last year several times regarding the problems with a single tunnel, including significant reverse flows that will harm fisheries, and impacts to Delta legacy towns.

However, what we do have is an opportunity to engage in planning processes, especially around the Portfolio Plan.  The more that we engage with our supporters throughout the state to create and implement regional water projects within their communities, the greater the reductions we will see in reliance on Delta exports.  This work is essential to saving the Delta.

While working with state officials on the hard question of new conveyance, we will be polite, professional, good willed, factual, respectful, honest, determined and on-point.  We will ask hard questions.  We will make suggestions.  We will expect answers.  We will employ humor when appropriate.

It is easy for us to talk to our base, and our supporters.  It is harder, and perhaps even more important, to talk with leaders with whom we may not fully agree regarding outcomes for the Delta.

Hopefully, dialogue will lead to more days of positive historic change.

We owe it to each other to try. Maybe if we keep the faith, we will help with the creation of a water plan that will make all of California water resilient, and that will truly protect the Delta for our children and future generations.

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