REACTIONS: Delta Counties Coalition, Food & Water Watch react to Metropolitan Delta tunnels re-vote *UPDATED with Restore the Delta response*; ACWA and Golden Gate Salmon Assn comment on State Water Board’s proposal for increasing flows

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Water District voted once again to support construction of the full California Water Fix project, amongst allegations of Brown Act violations and backroom deals.  Here are reactions I’ve received so far:

From the Delta Counties Coalition:

The Delta Counties Coalition (DCC) issued the following statement in response to Metropolitan Water District’s vote to finance the State of California’s proposed Twin Tunnels project (known as “WaterFix”):

“This re-vote is a perfect example of why ratepayers must demand that the tunnels project should not go forward,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli. “A powerful few water giants ignored Brown Act rules meant to protect ratepayers, got caught, and only then conceded to comply with state law.

It’s an unnecessarily costly, destructive project pushed by people who are trying to fix the system against anyone who opposes them. Their narrow public interest will significantly increase utility bills for California ratepayers and irreparably harm the Delta.”

The DCC is an alliance of the counties of Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo. The DCC advocates for protecting the interests of the Delta and California’s water supply and has produced a set of approaches that will achieve balance for the economic and environmental health of the Delta while also improving water supply stability.

For more information regarding the DCC and its ideas for fixing California’s water issues, visit sharedwatersolutions.com.

From Food & Water Watch:

The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) board members were forced today to retake their April vote to finance $11 billion of the $17 billion Delta tunnels project following violations of the Brown Act, which requires transparency. After agricultural water districts refused to invest in the project last spring, MWD engaged in backroom wheeling and dealing to pressure decision makers to force SoCal families to pay double their share for no additional water.

While the results of the vote did not change today, members of the public and representatives of the two biggest cities in the state—Los Angeles and San Diego— among others, were incensed by what they say is a lack of transparency and other violations of the California constitution. The Delta tunnels have not received full funding, and still require multiple permits.

Statement by Brenna Norton, Senior Organizer, Food & Water Watch

“This is the opening salvo of ongoing efforts to expose the unfairness and political cronyism behind the Delta Tunnels deal. The tunnels would be at least a $20 billion gift to corporate agribusiness, which receives 70 percent of average water exports from the Delta. If the project is ever built, Southern California ratepayers and taxpayers would pay for a project that doesn’t guarantee a single drop of new water. SoCal residents should not be an ATM for MWD leadership or wealthy agribusiness.”

From Restore the Delta:

Yesterday, environmental and public interest groups including Restore the Delta, Food and Water Watch California, Sierra Club Los Angeles Chapter, SEIU 721, S.E.E., the Center for Food and Safety, Los Angeles area pastors, and dozens of local Los Angeles County residents delivered another punch of opposing public comments to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) board of directors during their revote on the CA WaterFix project.

After approving 65 percent of total costs for the Delta tunnels at their April 10, 20189 vote, the board rescheduled their vote on the tunnels in May 2018 in response to a Public Records Act (PRA) request made by Food and Water Watch California and First Amendment Coalition that discovered certain MWD board directors violated the Brown Act with closed-door communications regarding the CA WaterFix decision on April 10, 2018.

As expected, the MWD board arrived at the same conclusion as they did during their April 10 vote, approving up to 64.6 percent of total project costs for the twin tunnels yesterday.

Numerous MWD board directors, including Director Gold (Los Angeles), Director Paskett (Los Angeles), Director Ballin (San Fernando), and Director Steiner (San Diego), thanked Food and Water Watch California for their PRA request and voiced their disappointment in fellow board directors’ efforts to whip enough yes votes for the Delta tunnels before the April 10 vote. Director Gold also vehemently expressed his disapproval of MWD director Brett Barbre’s joint effort with Congressmen Ken Calvert to create a run-around of state and federal law to exempt the Delta tunnels from judicial review. Finally, Directors Paskett and Steiner expressed concern that the State Water Resources Control Board updated Delta flow criteria could deter the feasibility of the tunnels project.

The approval of resolution 8.6 means that Metropolitan has rescinded their April 10, 2018 board action, and has authorized Metropolitan to not only fund well over half of the project’s total costs, but potentially contribute an additional $86 million for further contributions for study, review, planning, engineering, design, and other preconstruction capital costs.

In addition, the board resolution also grants MWD General Manager Jeff Kightlinger the executive power to authorize related financing, construction, and pre-construction agreements and amendments and the ability to negotiate draft terms and conditions for one or more multi-year transfer of State Water Project water supplies subject to board approval.

Executive Director of Restore the Delta, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla commented,
“Since Restore the Delta started its campaign to stop the tunnels, we knew that this project was built on a foundation of half-truths and mistruths. Metropolitan staff has not only lied about the Delta tunnels serving the public trust, endangered species, and California fisheries, but has overestimated water deliveries from the tunnels and continues to believe they will be able to receive “flexible diversions” despite recently updated Delta flow criteria from the State Water Resources Control Board that asserts less water will be available for South-of-Delta deliveries. Even less water will be available as our planet continues to adjust to climate change—a fact that Metropolitan staff has underestimated, as evidenced by staff’s climate change modeling that stops at the year 2030.

“Metropolitan’s laundry list of lies is not limited to environmental mistruths and bogus fishery science. In fact, it includes lying to member agencies and local Southern California cities about the tunnels’ cost per household.

“More recently, PRA requests from Food and Water Watch California and Restore the Delta have uncovered some of the most unforgiveable falsehoods that have surfaced throughout the course of CA WaterFix. These findings include MWD’s Brown Act violation, and MWD staff’s support of and involvement in the House Appropriations Bill Valadao Rider and Calvert Rider.

“Our coalition went into today’s revote anticipating that our comments would not lead to a positive outcome by Metropolitan for the future of the Delta. Yet, we are heartened that some MWD board directors are waking up and seeing the corruption that has been under their noses during the entire MWD Delta tunnels planning process. This fight is far from over. We will make sure that all Californians understand how Metropolitan seeks to manage California’s water for its own gain, rather than to protect the public trust.”

More reactions to the State Water Board’s proposal for increasing flows through the Delta

Last week, the State Water Board released the draft final documents for the Bay Delta Plan update for the Lower San Joaquin River and southern Delta, as well as a framework document for Sacramento River and Delta.  Both the final documents for the San Joaquin River as well as the framework document for the Sacramento River and Delta are calling for more water to be left in the rivers during key times of the year.  Reactions continue to reverberate … Here’s what ACWA and the Golden Gate Salmon Association had to say.

From the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA):

Timothy Quinn, executive director of the statewide Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), issued the following statement today in response to the State Water Resources Control Board’s release of draft final documents for the Bay-Delta Plan update for the Lower San Joaquin River and Southern Delta, as well as a framework document for the Sacramento River and Delta. The documents were released Friday.

“ACWA recognizes that the State Water Board is wrestling with an enormously difficult problem that has bedeviled California resource managers for decades. ACWA and several water suppliers from throughout California previously urged the State to move in a new direction, embracing comprehensive, integrated strategies for fishery management that we believe would be better for fisheries and water supply. However, the substance of the latest draft is the same as the original proposal that raised so much controversy. If we don’t find a way to better implement the state’s core value of advancing both the environment and water supply, California will be missing a critically important opportunity.”

The revised version of the State Water Board’s draft continues to propose 40 percent of unimpaired flows for February through June, with an allowed adaptive range between 30 to 50 percent for the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers through to the San Joaquin River. The proposed flow objectives are intended to increase the required flows left in rivers for the protection of fish and wildlife but would significantly reduce water available to water users in the Lower San Joaquin River Watershed.

In written comments, ACWA had suggested updating the plan to provide for specific timing and function of river flows to achieve scientifically-determined outcomes in consideration of multiple variables. Such variables include predation, food, and habitat availability, and to incorporate non-flow solutions that reconnect land and water to restore habitat and address the full life cycle of species needs. These so-called “functional flows” and “non-flow measures” would contribute real benefits to ecosystem recovery while maintaining water supply reliability.

California’s agricultural and urban water managers are united in their vision for a future that includes a healthy economy as well as healthy ecosystems and fish populations.  The State Water Board’s approach fails to ensure adequate habitat and other important functions critical to species survival. Instead, it will lead to widespread fallowing of vital agriculture land, affect drinking water supplies and hydro power generation, undercut groundwater sustainability goals  and make more difficult the implementation of other priority water issues in the Brown Administration’s California Water Action Plan.

From the Golden Gate Salmon Association:

Water Board Announcement Leaves Little Surplus Water for Tunnels, New Reservoirs: Calls for more water to rebuild salmon runs and fishing jobs

On July 6 the State Water Resources Control Board announced water diversions from Central Valley rivers will need to be reduced in order to save the Bay-Delta from ecological collapse.  This announcement has sobering consequences for future large water diversion projects.  Among these, the twin Delta tunnels and any expensive above ground reservoir projects that would rely on new diversions.

The water board announced it will seek about 55 percent of unimpaired flows from the Sacramento Valley.  This requires a significant reduction in diversions that is expected to provide around two million acre feet of additional flow through the Delta and Bay each year.  Steep declines in salmon populations in recent years are a stark reminder that diversions have gotten beyond what nature can sustain. Recent outbreaks of toxic blue green algae in the Delta are another sure sign that over-diversion of the rivers has left the Delta little more than a stagnant cesspool in some years.

The water board’s announcement is certain to reduce the amount of water that the Delta twin tunnels could legally divert. While the cost to build the tunnels remains the same, the volume of water available for delivery will decline. Clearly, this announcement demonstrates that the current proposal is economically infeasible and that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) should reevaluate the project.

“The fantasy that a $17 billion dollar investment in the tunnels would lead to more water diversions died with the July 6 water board announcement”, said GGSA director Mike Aughney. “From a business perspective, the twin tunnels project is a dog.”

“GGSA has always held that the state Dept. of Water Resources and MWD should wait until the State Board adopted new flow requirements before finalizing the tunnels project,” said GGSA president, John McManus. “The State Board announcement shows why that is still the right path forward..”

In addition, those hoping to divert more Sacramento River water upstream into new, expensive reservoirs, like the Sites proposal, are now facing far more constraints on when they can divert. Although the water board’s announcement is not yet a legal limit on diversions, it’s a strong signal to water users to plan for a future where the rivers will carry more natural flow.

“The science is clear.  Baby salmon don’t survive to the ocean without river water to carry them there,” said GGSA director David Zeff.  “Salmon fishing communities don’t survive either which why we’re glad to see the state board’s announcement pointing to a new, more responsible direction.”

The Golden Gate Salmon Association (www.goldengatesalmonassociation.org) is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GGSA’s mission is to protect and restore California’s largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley river’s that feed the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable, commercial, recreational and cultural resource.

Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in annual economic activity and $700 million in economic activity and jobs Oregon in a normal season. The industry employs tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This is a huge economic bloc made up of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, tackle shops and marine stores, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and the salmon fishing industry at large.

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