by Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta
If you have been keeping up with our news about the vote next week at Metropolitan Water District regarding funding for planning and design of the Delta tunnel, we think you will find these recent developments interesting.
We have not been able to confirm in writing or with sources what has been shared with us, in part because some parties will simply not reply. We hope that some motivated reporters, however, will be able to push sources for clarification in a way that our grassroots organization cannot.
What we do know, that can be verified…
As explained quite clearly by Caty Wagner of Sierra Club California, here is what MWD Board Members will now be considering on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. (Kern refers to Kern County Water Agency. Yes, MWD is considering paying for Resnick’s share. IRP is the Integrated Regional Plan for water.)
The board members now have 4 options– 1) pay for the tunnel and Kern’s portion at $75 million, 2) pay for only MWD’s portion at $59 million, 3) delay the vote until after the IRP (long-term plan) in April, or 4) NO TUNNEL.
By throwing in some metaphorical tunnel muck into their 4 options for Board consideration, they are making the odds of passing the appropriation of tunnel planning dollars more likely than it would have been with a simple yes or no vote.
On the not confirmed side…
We have heard, but have not been able to confirm, that MWD has even muddied the waters with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who a short time ago sent a letter to MWD opposing funding for the Delta tunnel due to the extreme economic position Los Angeles find itself in due to COVID and the related economic challenges. Several sources tell us that Mayor Garcetti has recanted that position and now supports the $59 million option. Yet, the State Water Resources Control Board continues with its research and assessment to head off a water shutoff crisis for struggling families throughout California.
Why the change of heart for Mayor Garcetti? We cannot confirm, but we have heard that California Natural Resources Secretary pressured Mayor Garcetti into the about-face. With mass evictions and water shutoffs looming for a large percentage of Californians, we believe even those who think the tunnel is a good idea should be willing to take a break on planning for the next year until we can assess where our public water agencies land financially. Mayor Garcetti had it right the first time. Too bad he cannot hold onto his convictions when under pressure.
The promises of transparency wane by the day with the Newsom Administration regarding the future of the tunnel project and management of the Delta for a sustainable future. Case in point: we have been told, but have not been able to verify, that DWR Director Karla Nemeth conceded to representatives of the Bay Area Council in a recent meeting that the South Delta’s water quality would only be protected for a few years with the Delta tunnel project, and then the forecast is that the Delta will turn into a saltwater body. Yet, the Delta Stewardship Council is completing a very promising report – a climate vulnerability analysis for the Delta. That plan works with the assumption that water quality standards for the Delta remain the same, even though water quality is not the area of study for that report; (it will deal with flood, drought, fire etc.).
Putting aside the decades of disruption, pollution, and economic trauma that will be inflicted on the Delta region with construction of the tunnel, if the state’s true assessment is that the entire watershed will have to be transformed into a saltwater region, then where is the real planning for that transformation? How will the state intervene to transform the region’s economy? How will it provide drinking water to the region’s 4 million residents? If farms cease to exist, who will take over the reclamation districts to provide levee protection? How will large cities like Stockton and Antioch be funded to replace infrastructure? How will fish species and wildlife be protected? Or is that being given up too? Where is the real plan if the Delta is marked to become a saltwater body?
Planning for the Delta has been reduced to a Greek tragedy with two bad options: 1) build the tunnel, take the water, and abandon the region; or 2) plan nothing and let sea level rise and flood swallow the estuary. Piecemealing climate change planning for the future of the Delta region, its economy, its environment, its people, all to hide true decision-making, is unconscionable. Abandoning the Delta with or without the tunnel is unconscionable. Presenting the tunnel as the only choice for climate change mitigation is unconscionable because it fails to solve the real Delta challenges that will be part of climate change. Asking for ratepayers in the middle of an economic crisis and global pandemic to commit millions of dollars for the project is unconscionable.
Did we mention that DWR is also willing to commit tens of millions of dollars for tunnel planning and the water districts will be allowed to pay them back later? Another unconscionable decision made while California is facing record evictions and water shutoffs.
Secretary Crowfoot and Director Nemeth have revealed that they will not squander a good crisis to advance this project any way they see fit without having the real discussion publicly and broadly of what the real plan is for the Delta’s future.
It’s too bad because there is a better way. We refer our followers back to our climate change report from 2019. We would add that extensive wetlands restoration in the Bay Area, West Delta, and further into the region would also help to alleviate the impacts of sea level rise. Such efforts with upstream floodplain restoration and levee improvements will have to be done to protect the Delta’s 4 million people, unless the true plan is for the Delta’s people to become California’s first climate migrants.
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