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Why should Californians pay for $50 billion tunnel boondoggle?
by Dan Bacher
Tuesday May 21st, 2013 12:19 PM
Restore the Delta (RTD) responded to Meral’s latest claim by asking, “So why then should rate payers from Southern California and tax payers throughout the state be asked to pick up the tab for a $50 billion project that will not make more water for Southern California or save the Delta?

Photo of Jerry Meral at BDCP meeting by Dan Bacher.
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Why should Californians pay for $50 billion tunnel boondoggle?

by Dan Bacher

As opposition to Governor Jerry Brown's plan to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta increases every day, Brown administration officials continue to mount a full court press for the project's completion.

Dr. Jerry Meral, Brown’s point man for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, recently said, "the Delta cannot be saved," in spite of administration claims that one of the co-equal goals of the plan is "ecosystem restoration."

Then in an op-ed piece for the Stockton Record, Meral now claims, "No additional water withdrawal from the Delta is being sought under the application for this permit." (http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130519/A_OPINION06/305190304/-1/NEWSMAP)

Restore the Delta (RTD) responded to Meral’s latest statement by asking, “So why then should rate payers from Southern California and tax payers throughout the state be asked to pick up the tab for a $50 billion project that will not make more water for Southern California or save the Delta?”

That is a very good question. How can the Brown administration possibly ask the taxpayers and rate payers to pay for a $50 billion pork barrel boondoggle, putting Californians in debt for generations to come, when the project makes absolutely no sense?

Restore the Delta emphasized, “There is a better solution to California’s water challenges than to build Peripheral Tunnels that won’t create one drop of new water and will not save the Delta.” Restore the Delta’s plan is here: http://www.restorethedelta.org/about-the-delta/healthy-delta-communities-plan/theres-a-better-solution/

Of course, we know that the real purpose of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, under the guise of the co-equal goals of "ecosystem restoration" and water supply "reliability," is to create the infrastructure to export more Northern California water for corporate agribusiness to continue irrigating toxic land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and for the oil industry to expand the environmentally destructive practice of fracking.

As I asked Meral, deputy secretary at the California Natural Resources Agency, at a BDCP meeting on March 20, "Can you give one example from U.S. or world history in which the construction of a diversion canal or tunnel has led to taking less rather than more water out of an ecosystem?"

Neither Meral or any Brown administration official has been able to answer this question.

Meral made his controversial comments, “BDCP is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved," while speaking with Tom Stokely of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) in a private conversation after a meeting with Northern California Indian Tribes on Monday, April 15.

"I was flabbergasted because that's not what we've been told by politicians and state officials," said Stokely after the conversation. "I was surprised at his candor because I've always known that BDCP is not about restoring the Delta."

"We did not put the statement out for publicity gain or just to try to embarrass somebody," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, RTD Executive Director, who witnessed Meral make the comment. "The reason we let this statement out was to show the true intent of the tunnels project," which she said is to increase pumping Delta water south.

Both Stokely and Barrigan-Parrilla said Meral had been speaking about his concern that a "mega-flood" could inundate the Central Valley someday, as it did in 1861-62, when Meral made his statement.

A spokesman for the Natural Resources Agency told the LA Times the remarks were “taken out of context” and that there are no plans calling for Meral’s resignation. Congressman George Miller and four other leading Democratic Representatives called for Meral's resignation after he made his controversial remarks. (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/political/la-me-pc-jerry-brown-water-jerry-meral-delta-water-plan-resignation-20130425,0,7348556.story)

It is important to understand that Delta advocates and supporters of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish restoration aren’t backers of “doing nothing,” as Natural Resources Secretary John Laird suggests is the “alternative” to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels in his recent letter in the Sacramento Bee (http://www.sacbee.com/2013/05/17/5417541/managing-to-scientific-uncertainty.html)

The Brown administration needs to halt the BDCP process and instead adopt the following proactive measures:

First, install state-of-the-art fish screens at the state and federal pumping facilities in the South Delta to avoid the deaths of millions of fish including protected salmon and steelhead at the pumps every year.

Second, reduce water exports from the Delta to no more than 3 million acre feet in all years, in keeping with the flow criteria of the State Water Resources Board.

Third, adopt the series of creative recommendations outlined in the Environmental Water Caucus reduced water exports alternative, including an aggressive statewide water conservation program and the retirement of toxic farmlands. (http://www.ewccalifornia.org/reports/REDUCEDEXPORTSPLAN.pdf)

The Brown administration needs to abandon it's tired Nineteenth Century solution - the Bay Delta Conservation Plan - to solving Twenty-First Century ecosystem and water supply problems.

Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, summed up the danger that the peripheral tunnels pose to California’s fish, people and rivers.

“The common people will pay for the peripheral tunnels and a few people will make millions,” emphasized Sisk. “It will turn a once pristine water way into a sewer pipe. It will be all bad for the fish, the ocean and the people of California.”