News Worth Noting: Delta legislators concerned by proposal to incorporate Delta Tunnels into the Delta Plan; Restore the Delta on the State Water Board and the Bay-Delta Estuary; CA Supreme Court to resolve conflicting precedents over Prop 218 and groundwater fees

Delta legislators concerned by proposal to incorporate Delta Tunnels in to the Delta Plan

Governor proposes $3.6 million in state budget for tunnels’ in Delta management plan

From the Office of Senator Lois Wolk:

WolkToday, State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and 17 other legislators expressed concern about the Governor’s plans to dedicate $3.6 million in state budget funding to integrate the Delta Tunnels proposal into the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan, the state’s management plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“Such funding and direction is premature and pre-decisional, given that the environmental review for the tunnels proposal is still in progress, and the Delta tunnels have not yet received any of the required state and federal permits required for construction,” wrote Wolk and the letters’ other authors. “Rather than requiring the Delta Stewardship Council to act in a specific manner on the Delta Tunnels, we urge a careful and independent review of the tunnels proposal after the environmental review is complete. We look forward to working with you to ensure sustainable and resilient water supplies are available for California’s economy, communities and ecosystems.”

The letter echoes concerns raised in the recent letter sent to the Governor by six California congressional representatives.

The Delta Independent Science Board’s review of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Water Fix concluded that the current draft of the Water Fix “fails to adequately inform weighty decisions about public policy.” The Board said the current draft of the proposal “lacks key information, analyses, summaries, and comparisons” needed to evaluate the science behind the proposal.

“Directing the council to incorporate the Delta Tunnels proposal in the Delta Plan undermines the independent nature of the Delta Stewardship Council and further compromises the plan’s credibility,” said Wolk.  “The Delta needs an independent Delta Stewardship Council that will uphold the scientific standards set by the Delta Reform Act for the Delta Plan. Without autonomy, the council can’t fulfill its mandate to achieve the ‘coequal goals’ while protecting the Delta ecosystem, as well as its cultural, agricultural and other important attributes. This funding proposal is contrary to Proposition 1 language prohibiting bond funding to permit the delta tunnels into the Delta Plan.”

“The Delta Stewardship Council needs to take an independent view of conveyance and the environmental impacts that will result from this project,” said Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), one of the letter’s authors. “By failing to do so, we fail to ensure the Delta is protected.”

Also signing on to the letter were Senators Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), Steven M. Glazer (D-Contra Costa), Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), Bill Monning (D-Carmel), Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), and Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont)—as well as Assembly Members Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon), Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord), Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), Bill Dodd (D-Napa), Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), and Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg).

Wolk, the letter’s lead author, represents all or part of four of the five counties in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta—and chairs the Senate Select Committee on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Restore the Delta on the State Water Board and the Declining Health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary

From Restore the Delta:

Restore the Delta logoRestore the Delta held a teleconference entitled “The State Water Board and the Declining Health of the SF Bay Estuary.” Audio Link (soon – will be posted at our website)

The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is on the brink of environmental disaster. The fish, wildlife, drinking water, and the many other uses it provides are all declining due to massive water exports. The State Water Resources Control board still operates Delta outflow on a 20-year-old Water Quality Control Plan that was due to be revised in 1998. This outdated plan allows more than half the water needed for the Delta’s ecological health to be diverted away largely for unsustainable industrial agriculture in the southwest San Joaquin Valley. Now the State Water Board is considering permits for the Delta Tunnels without first updating the best available science about how to keep the SF Bay Delta Estuary alive.

The Delta Tunnels will destroy the sole source of drinking water for one million Delta residents, the physical environment and the state’s most magnificent fisheries and breathtaking habitat for birds on the Pacific flyway – not to mention the agricultural and related economies for an additional three million Delta area residents. The Delta is not California’s sacrifice zone.

On the call were a group of experts who have followed the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) for decades who were asked, “How did we get into this situation and what must be done to fix it, now?”

Here are samples from each of the speakers:

Tim Stroshane, policy analyst, Restore the Delta presented background on the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and recent flow history: By 2005, scientists sounded the alarm in the media about the sudden collapse of yet more Delta fish species besides those already listed. They found that nonnative invasive shellfish in the Delta were concentrating selenium and other toxins in their tissues, threatening the health of Delta food webs.  All the while, state and federal water exports from the Delta increased 50 percent, from 3.6 million acre-feet in the 1970s to 5.4 million acre-feet in the 2000s.  Such dire conditions barely roused the Water Board to action, when staff in 2006 revised the 1995 plan, but changed none of its water quality objectives despite the Delta’s well documented collapse. Planning for the Governor’s Tunnels Project got under way that year too.  In 2009, the Legislature specifically ordered the Water Board to determine what flows Delta fish need, which it did in 2010. The Board has done its best to ignore its own findings.
Full Statement

Darcie Luce, Water Policy Specialist, Friends of the San Francisco Bay Estuary spoke on the Permanent Drought and Impacts on San Francisco Bay:  “Last year’s State of the Estuary Report found that the status of freshwater inflow is poor and declining for both the Bay and Delta. Not only have we failed to improve the delivery of fresh water to the estuary, we’ve actually been doing a worse job in the past decade or so—and of course, that is evident in the widespread decline of fish species. In effect, we have created a chronic and artificial drought for our fish and wildlife that depend on the Bay-Delta Estuary. Dr. Peter Moyle, one of the foremost authorities on this subject, has stated that from a fish perspective, California has been in an increasingly severe drought since the 1960s; and that during this current extreme drought, the environment is the ‘water user’ that has suffered the most.”
Full Statement

Bill Jennings, chairman/executive director, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance spoke on the decline of Bay-Delta Fish Species: The biological tapestry of the Bay-Delta estuary is disintegrating and a number of species are on the brink to extinction. Fisheries, I might add, that evolved and prospered over thousands of years and survived the hundred-year mega droughts of the past.  Fish & Wildlife’s 2015 Fall Midwater Trawl demonstrates that, since 1967, populations of striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad have declined by 99.7, 98.3, 99.9, 97.7, 98.5 and 93.7 percent, respectively…  Since 1995, DWR and USBR have fully complied with Bay-Delta water quality objectives in only 8 of 21 years. The State Water Board has never taken an enforcement action for the thousands upon thousands of violations.
Full Statement

Robert Wright, senior counsel, Friends of the River spoke on the State Water Board’s duty under the law and the EPA’s duties:  At present, the water for the exporters is taken at the south end of the Delta so the water provides environmental benefits throughout the Delta before being taken. The Water Fix Tunnels would take that water upstream, leading to enormous reductions of freshwater flows through the already imperiled Delta and worsen water quality violations including blue green algae.   The EPA explained that: “Water quality and aquatic life analyses in the SDEIS show that the proposed project may cause or contribute to violations of state water quality standards and significant degradation of waters of the U.S. . .” [p. 4]. Like the state agencies in the Flint catastrophe, the state agencies here are trying to ignore the red flags raised by the experts-the EPA- of a potential water quality disaster.
Full Statement

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director, Restore the Delta spoke on the need for a new Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, upcoming hearings and what happens next: “The members of the State Water Resources Control Board are extremely intelligent officials with a thorough understanding of science, water history, law, and California water management.  It is our belief that they do not want to set the course for destruction of the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.  The question will be if they have the moral courage and fortitude to stand up to Governor Brown’s political push and the rewriting of state water history presented by Metropolitan Water District.  Ultimately, will they become heroes for protecting the public trust, the 1 million people of the Delta whose sole drinking water source is the Delta, our state’s iconic fisheries, the water starved San Francisco Bay, and California’s oldest agriculture economy?  Or will they capitulate and rubberstamp a project that will destroy the estuary and cannibalize California’s sustainable water future.”
Full Statement

Are Groundwater Pumping Fees or Charges Subject to Proposition 218? California Supreme Court to Resolve Conflicting Precedent

From Gina Nicholls, Nossaman LLP, via JD Supra:

In 2015 California’s Sixth and Second District Courts of Appeal issued conflicting opinions regarding whether groundwater extraction fees or charges are subject to Article 13D of the California Constitution (Proposition 218).  The California Supreme Court is likely to resolve the conflict in the coming year.  This issue is especially urgent in light of the forthcoming regulation of groundwater extractions under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”).  The issue also is important because of newly articulated substantive limitations on tiered pricing under Proposition 218.  (See Capistrano Taxpayers Association, Inc. v. City of San Juan Capistrano (2015) 235 Cal. App. 4th 1493, decided April 20, 2015, as modified May 19, 2015.)

Read more from JD Supra here: Are Groundwater Pumping Fees or Charges Subject to Proposition 218? California Supreme Court to Resolve Conflicting Precedent

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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