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California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections

Natural Heritage Institute Hires Jerry Meral
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Jan 1st, 2014 6:42 PM
Jerry Meral, former Deputy Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency, said that starting January 1, "I will be representing the Natural Heritage Institute on California water matters, including BDCP."
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Natural Heritage Institute Hires Jerry Meral

by Dan Bacher

Many people have been speculating about where Jerry Meral, the controversial Deputy Secretary for Natural Resources who claimed "the Delta cannot be saved" in April 2013, would go to work after his retirement from state service on December 31.

The speculation is over. Meral, Governor Jerry Brown's former point man for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, announced in an email and his new employer announced in a statement on December 31 that he will be now working for the Natural Heritage Institute (NHI), a pro twin tunnels "environmental" NGO that touts itself as "an early and strenuous proponent of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan."

Jerry Meral is joining an organization that not only has been an "early and strenuous" cheerleader of the BDCP, but has long championed water markets and water transfers that have privatized water and transformed a public trust asset, belonging to all citizens, into a "profit center to enrich special interests," according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

"NHI also developed the concept that became the Environmental Water Account, which enabled water speculators to sell public trust water back to the public at vast profit," said Jennings.

Meral said in his email, "As you may have heard, I am retiring from state service today. It has been a great pleasure working for Governor Brown on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan for the past three years. I am confident that the Plan will be successfully completed and implemented."

He said that starting January 1, he will be representing the Natural Heritage Institute on California water matters, including BDCP.

The Natural Heritage Institute confirmed Meral's new position in a statement saying, "Dr. Meral will represent NHI on BDCP issues," but as a volunteer.

"In order to comply with state law regarding 'revolving door' issues, he will not be compensated for his time working on BDCP," the Institute claimed. "He will also represent NHI on groundwater issues, transportation issues affecting water quality and habitat, and other California water matters."

The NHI announcement did not explain how Meral's "volunteer" time working on the tunnel plan would be separated from his "paid" time working on other issues.

The complete NHI announcement regarding Meral's hiring is below:

"Dr. Jerry Meral, who directed the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) for Governor Jerry Brown, has joined the Natural Heritage Institute as Director of the California Water Program.

Dr. Meral served as Deputy Director of the California Department of Water Resources from 1975 to 1983, Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League from 1983 to 2010, and as Deputy Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency from 2011 to 2013. In the latter capacity, he was in charge of the BDCP, a habitat conservation plan which includes the proposed twin water tunnels which would pass under the Delta from Sacramento to Tracy, as well as extensive habitat restoration.

Dr. Meral will represent NHI on BDCP issues. In order to comply with state law regarding 'revolving door' issues, he will not be compensated for his time working on BDCP. He will also represent NHI on groundwater issues, transportation issues affecting water quality and habitat, and other California water matters. Dr. Meral previously served on the NHI Board of Directors, and represented NHI on the BDCP Steering Committee in 2010.

NHI is a non-profit environmental conservation organization founded in 1989 with 25 years of experience in California water issues. NHI was represented on the BDCP Steering Committee for many years. NHI also works on river management issues throughout the world, with special focus on preserving and restoring natural functions on major river systems in Asia, Africa, and North and South America. The NHI Board of Directors includes well known scientists such as Dr. Peter Moyle, an expert on California fish.

The Natural Heritage Institute has been an early and strenuous proponent of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. NHI finds the evidence overwhelming that the delta cannot serve the dual functions of maintaining endangered species and water supply reliability without a massive habitat restoration program and improvements to the water diversion and conveyance infrastructure that can reduce the conflicts between these uses. BDCP is the only apparent vehicle for marshalling the billions of dollars of financial support from the State and Federal Water Contractors for the needed infrastructure improvements and for the public funding needed to undertake the restoration program.

The infrastructure improvements may also provide substantial benefits beyond the delta itself. NHI has worked for decades to illuminate opportunities for conjunctive use of surface and groundwater resources, many of which would rely on a more flexible system of moving water across the delta. When it becomes easier to move water to new off-stream storage facilities and empty groundwater basins in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, it will be possible to undertake stream enhancement north of the Delta, benefitting both the environment and water users of all regions

The principal fear of people in Northern California is that those in the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California will take more water from the Delta than is good for the fish and the environment of the Delta can be alleviated through water management measures to implement the existing state policy to reduce reliance on the delta by the state and federal water supply agencies. Water exports from the Delta should not increase beyond the historic level of export.

Learn more about NHI at http://www.n-h-i.org."

A list of government agencies, NGOs and foundations is listed on the Institute's website as "partners, funders and clients" (it doesn't specify which are partners, funders and clients).

The foundations listed include the Ford Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Resources Legacy Fund, S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Soros Foundation and The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, among others.

Background on Meral and the BDCP:

Meral became the focus of a huge controversy when he acknowledged on April 15, 2013 that "BDCP is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta.The Delta cannot be saved.'"

He made his controversial comments 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, according to Restore the Delta's "Delta Flows" newsletter (http://www.restorethedelta.org/or-is-it-the-point/)

After Meral made the revealing, candid comments, five Congressional Democrats - George Miller, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Doris Matsui and Anna Eshoo - called for Meral's immediate resignation. (http://www.fishsniffer.com/blogs/details/congressional-democrats-call-for-brown-administration-officials-resignation/)

"Meral’s statement, if accurately reported, suggests the Brown Administration intends to explicitly violate the established statutory co-equal goals of ecosystem restoration in the Bay-Delta and water reliability throughout the state," according to the Representatives' statement. "This fuels speculation that the Administration’s plan, if unchanged, will devastate the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the communities that rely on it, a concern that Northern California Lawmakers and other stakeholders have voiced throughout the process."

The widely-criticized plan proposes to construct three new intakes in the north Delta along the Sacramento River about 35 miles north of the existing South Delta pumping plants. Two 35-mile long twin tunnels would carry the water underground to the existing pumping plants that feed canals sttetching hundreds of miles to the south and west.

The release of the over 40,000 pages of public review draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and its corresponding Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) on December 13 triggered a 120-day period for the gathering of public comments through April 14, 2014.

The construction of the twin tunnels will likely hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well as threaten the steelhead and salmon populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

For more information, go to: http://www.restorethedelta.org