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Delta Flows: Monitoring for the Bay-Delta Estuary on Multiple Fronts

Before we continue with the blog below, we want to thank our contributors who have helped us keep this vitally important work for the estuary going. This weekend is the 15th anniversary and start of the 16th year of work by Restore the Delta! If you have been busy this summer and unable to contribute to Our Living Delta, it’s not too late. Click her to make a contribution.  As you read this blog, you will see that we are busier than ever working to protect the estuary that we all love.

CEQA Reform Bill Update

A number of our followers were in touch with us quickly after our last alert asking for a bill number for the CEQA Reform Bill in the California legislature and language for the bill itself.  We provided neither because as of the writing of this newsletter, a bill with a number still has not been published, and the proposed language we saw was drafted on a word document without any assignment or attribution.  Our alert was sent to you as soon as possible so that you could help us in stomping out a bad idea at its inception. Be assured, when we have details for needed action, we share it all with our supporters.

We have endured CEQA reform bills to weaken Delta protections every two years for the last 12 years. We are vigilant always – without being panicked. And truthfully after so many attempts by DWR and California’s bipartisan line of misguided governors to create exemptions for a tunnel project that has gone from bad to worse, our indignation has evolved into a machine-like response in the sad whack-a-mole game of protecting the Delta. We continue to use our mallets as necessary while working to build positive programs for improved conditions in the Delta. 

As of the writing of this blog (Saturday afternoon), we have been told the CEQA exemption proposal from the Newsom administration is not going into a trailer bill.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Newsom administration will stop with attempts to slide it into a bill, so please keep making the phone calls/emails to your state representatives and to Governor Newsom’s office

The language for this bill trailer as written is also an attempt for the Newsom administration to influence funding for the voluntary agreement proposals for the Delta.  The administration want hundreds of millions of dollars in habitat funding – to replace needed Delta flows. This is part of the same old restoration game that was rolled out by the Brown and Schwarzenegger administrations. They want to bypass finishing and implementing the Bay-Delta Plan which would establish updated regulatory flows for the watershed because the science does not support holding flow upstream or exporting water to their big political backers.  The Delta needs to flow.

Don’t get us wrong. We favor habitat restoration throughout our watersheds to protect species, rivers, and the health of water supplies, and as a buffer for sea level rise with climate change.  But the Newsom administration, like the two previous administrations, is determined to trade gravel and plants for water at the expense of public trust resources, Delta communities across the board, and environmental justice communities locally and throughout the state. It’s faux environmentalism. In fact, Newsom’s administration, which fashions itself as “woke” social and environmental justice leadership, is failing to protect environmental justice communities in the Delta and throughout California on water and on other critically important environmental fronts. 

They are selling environmental management conceptually in multiple government processes as whole ecosystem management – which again if created holistically, completely, honestly with real standards – we fully support. But as always with Delta processes, the comforting environmental language created by a California governor’s administration leadership creates the illusion for the general public that their environmental interests are being represented to cover for actual anti-environmental policy.

To make our point clear, here is how the CEQA reform language has been positioned.

CEQA Statutory Exemption for Climate Resiliency and Biodiversity Projects.

Division 13 (commencing with section 21000) of the Public Resources Code

a.    This division shall not apply to a project that will, and which has the primary purpose to, conserve, restore, protect, enhance and aid in the recovery of native fish and wildlife, and the habitat upon which they depend,  or provide habitat to mimic a previously existing habitat, and result in long-term net benefits to climate resiliency, biodiversity, and sensitive species recovery, as determined by the Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
b.    Any project shall include procedures and ongoing management for the protection of the environment.
c.    The Director, within 48 hours of making any determination pursuant to subdivision (a), shall file a Notice of Exemption with the Office of Planning and Research at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, and post such notice on the Department’s website.
d.    The Department shall report annually to the Legislature all determinations pursuant to this section.
e.    This section shall remain in effect only until January 1, 2025, and as of that date is repealed, unless a later enacted statute that is enacted before January 1, 2025, deletes or extends that date.

To put it simply, this bill trailer would give any governor going forward the ability to bypass the California Environmental Quality Act for any project that the Director of Fish and Game deems as worthy of protecting species. The Newsom administration is not following the best science for fishery protections presently – and he is the “progressive, environmental” governor.  Imagine what would happen if we ended up with a governor who denies climate science and is against the Endangered Species Act?

Shame on the Newsom administration for even advancing such a poor piece of legislation. Yes, CEQA can use some reform.  Yes, we need improved habitat. Yes, we need to manage our lands and water for complete environmental health. What we don’t need is for the true intent around promoting water exports for elite, powerful political interests via the existing pumps, or with a new tunnel, to be hidden from the public. What we don’t need is complete executive branch authority, which can be corrupted, to be exempted from transparency and water management accountability.

Related HABs Management Accountability

Restore the Delta’s water quality testing program has rolled out a bit slower than anticipated due to COVID conditions and delivery services losing our paid-for water quality testing kits for six weeks. (We’d love to write a blog about Fed Ex.) However, those challenges have been resolved, and our team will be moving forward with joint field work with San Francisco BayKeeper, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and boating assistance from California Striped Bass this next week. We are grateful for the support and partnership of all three entities.

There have been over two dozen reports of significant harmful algal bloom outbreaks in the Delta.  Visit the State Water Resources Control Board site for more details.  HABs are also a growing problem throughout the state, threatening recreation, fishing, public health, and potentially drinking water supplies.

We have been told that cyanobacteria is present at Franks Tract – a place of importance for the health of fisheries.  We will share our test findings with you and photos from field work in the weeks ahead so that we can all track the health of the estuary together.

We also want to make note of how the Department of Water Resources relates to harmful algal blooms in their outreach and messaging.  Our team counted 597 tweets made by DWR since April 1, 2021. Of only which 16 described HABs outbreaks, with little mention of danger within the Delta (they do use some Delta area photos). The threat to water quality in the Delta and across the state from HABs to the environment and people is statistically not relevant to their planning work.  Most of their messaging centers around gains in groundwater management – which recent articles by writers like Mark Arax clearly call into question.  

DWR and the Newsom administration underestimate the threat of HABs at the same time the Bureau of Land Management has closed public lands, where a family recently died under mysterious circumstances, due to the public health threat from cyanobacteria in the water. It is negligent on DWR’s part to be so cavalier about what is happening in our waterways.

DWR’s messaging exemplifies their lack of regard regarding HABs and the related water quality issues from the impacts of climate change, whereas the voluntary agreements and proposed Delta tunnel are the key to moving water around to rebuild groundwater supplies for those who have greedily depleted their groundwater systems with the overdevelopment of unsustainable agriculture.  If HABs are ignored by DWR and the Newsom administration as a real and serious problem in need of study, tracking, funding, mitigation and solutions, then they can advance the faux environmental solutions of dry habitat, inadequate flows, empty dams, and a massive tunnel that each governor has proposed over the last forty years.

With that, we are stopping our blog here.  We have more to report in regard to other topics in the week ahead.  But it is a holiday weekend, and we don’t want to overwhelm our members, or ourselves.  Watch for the next newsletter, and please don’t forget to make a contribution.