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Jerry Brown's 'New' Delta Tunnels Plan Is Same Old Water Grab

by Dan Bacher
Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), stated, "Virtually every promulgated statute and regulatory standard protecting the Delta has been routinely ignored and violated over the last three decades and, consequently, any assurances and promises by Delta tunnel proponents are worthless. California has been in a drought cycle more than forty percent of the time over the last hundred years and the tunnels will not provide a single additional drop of water. They will, however, further degrade Delta water quality and exacerbate conditions that have brought fisheries to the brink of extinction.”
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Jerry Brown's 'New' Delta Tunnels Plan Is Same Old Water Grab

by Dan Bacher

The state and federal governments released the EIR/EIS for the revised Delta Tunnels project, formerly known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), on Thursday, July 9, a day earlier than environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal leaders had anticipated.

The Brown and Obama administrations touted the revised documents as "describing the changes and refinements made since last summer to the plant that seeks to secure California’s water supplies and improve ecosystem conditions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta."

Continuing the lack of transparency and accountability to the public that the Brown and Obama administrations have become notorious for, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources announced that they will host a "media-only conference call" on Monday, July 13, 2015, to discuss the release of the revised document.

In their zeal to rush the plan through, the agencies are doing everything they can to limit and suppress public comment, with a public comment period of less than two months put in place. Comments are due by close of business Monday, August 31, 2015, just 54 days after the release of the EIR/EIS.

DWR has identified sub-alternative 4A (California WaterFix) as its preferred "conveyance" alternative The 2013 Draft EIR/EIS had previously identified Alternative 4 (BDCP) as DWR’s preferred alternatives, according to the agencies.

“The new alternative described in these documents would help restore natural flow patterns in the Delta,” claimed California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin.“With California WaterFix, we will not need to rely solely on south Delta pumping plants that can cause harmful reverse flows in nearby channels. We’ll gain the flexibility to move water when and where it is safest for fish. With the release of a revised plan today, we are a step closer to finally modernizing our 50-year-old water conveyance system in the Delta and improving the reliability and sustainability of water supplies for California.”

A "fact sheet" and "answers to frequently asked questions" are available at http://www.baydeltaconservationplan.com and http://www.californiawaterfix.com.

In anticipation of the release, Restore the Delta and a coalition of advocates for the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary held a teleconference on July 8 to preview the tunnels plan. While the Brown and Obama administrations claimed the "revised" plan would "restore natural flow patterns," tunnel opponents characterized the revised plan as a massive water grab by corporate agribusiness, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and steam injection operations.

The teleconference took place the same day that Jerry Brown, the worst Governor for fish, water and the environment in recent California history, cynically called on states and provinces to join California in the "fight against climate change" in keynote remarks at the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto.

“The real source of climate action has to come from states and provinces,” gushed Governor Brown, whose administration recently approved nine new offshore fracks in Southern California. “This is a call to arms. We’re going to build up such a drumbeat that our national counterparts – they’re going to listen.” (http://cert1.mail-west.com/mc7rmhByjuO/jan/n31hBgtmyuz/qhB88dct3s41a9o/1hBqvn/geyd3rfebon3/hqshi?_c=d%7Cze7pzanwmhlzgt%7C13aborse3qlrtdu&_ce=1436459943.13d0bb084ec4b812a02dfee4436ab11c)

While Brown was greenwashing his abysmal environmental record, RTD and public trust advocates issued their own "call to arms" about how Brown's deeply flawed Bay Delta Conservation Plan failed to meet federal standards under the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, or to pencil out the costs for water users.

They pointed out that the Brown administration leadership and tunnel boosters have employed public relations efforts like "Californians for Water Security" to rebrand the project “CA Water Fix” and “CA Eco Restore,” though it will do neither, according to the groups.

Advocates warned that this repackaging of the water export tunnels will "waste up to $60 billion dollars without creating any new water, won’t help desperate communities during the drought, or fund innovative water conservation, stormwater capture, or water recycling projects that cities are eager to build for resilience in a changing climate."

In addition, they said the lack of scoping meetings for the new plan, lack of details regarding financing, and addition of 8,000 new pages for public comment on top of the existing 40,000 pages, reveal that the Brown administration is seeking to move forward with the project "without transparency."

"$248 million spent thus far on drafts and publicity have netted a project-concept that will not produce one drop of new water for the state, but that has enriched special interest water and engineering consultants over the last eight years," according to the groups.

In the teleconference, Delta experts outlined three ways present State and Federal government action is harming the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary:

• Mismanagement of the Delta by the State Water Resources Control Board during the drought by suspending water quality standards;
• Federal legislation aiming to further weaken Delta protections and increase water exports;
• The plan to build massive Delta tunnels that will imperil Bay-Delta water quality and Northern California fisheries, inundate Delta family farms with salt water, and continue California’s history of unsustainable water policy paid for by water rate and property tax payers.

Representatives of Delta water agencies, Friends of the River, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Restore the Delta and the Environmental Water Caucus commented on how the state and federal actions will push endangered species, such as Delta and longfin smelt, winter Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, over the abyss of extinction while failing to address the California drought and the state's long-term water supply needs.

"In this drought year, it is obvious there is not enough water in the system to meet species and in-basin needs and satisfy the insatiable water demands of the Delta water exporters," said Osha Meserve, Delta Water Rights attorney. "The tunnels, unlike water conservation, would not create any new water and would substantially degrade water quality, impairing the Clean Water Act mandate for the estuary to be fishable, swimmable and drinkable. The billions slated for investment in tunnels to literally reroute the Sacramento River will create even more pressure to push any remaining fish in the estuary over the brink of extinction, just like they have done this year.”

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), stated, "Virtually every promulgated statute and regulatory standard protecting the Delta has been routinely ignored and violated over the last three decades and, consequently, any assurances and promises by Delta tunnel proponents are worthless. California has been in a drought cycle more than forty percent of the time over the last hundred years and the tunnels will not provide a single additional drop of water. They will, however, further degrade Delta water quality and exacerbate conditions that have brought fisheries to the brink of extinction.”

"The revised EIR does not consider the Environmental Water Caucus’ sustainable export plan, which we have tried to get them to consider for more than three years," said Bob Wright, Senior Counsel for Friends of the River (FOR). "They have ignored the 8,000 public comments demanding a better plan. Rather than go back to the drawing board, this tunnels plan looks exactly like the old one. The deliberate suppression of alternatives reducing exports, coupled with the suppression of independent comments from the BDCP and Water Fix websites, is calculated to deceive the public about the adverse environmental effects and true costs of the Delta tunnels.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD), pointed out the threat posed by the recently introduced H.R. 2898 (Valadao), which would maximize water exports from the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary and further weaken regulations for endangered fish species.

"Today, Delta communities face invasive plant species and toxic algal blooms as a result of inadequate flow," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "HR 2898 does nothing to help with drought relief for 55 of California’s 58 counties. It does nothing but shift public health and wealth to private hands through water transfers. HR 2898 is not in the interest of taxpayers and the general public, it is the same old water grab for industrial mega-growers.”

Conner Everts, Facilitator for the Environmental Water Caucus (EWC), concluded, "Historic drought is proving, again, that local, cost effective and environmentally beneficial water solutions are immediate and eliminate the need for far away, costly, and environmentally detrimental speculative projects. With unprecedented response agencies like MWD are having to fully fund the huge demand for incentives and we are witnessing the future now."

"First things first: invest in local infrastructure and leaky pipes-LADWP today is announcing their local water and energy investment rate increase-stop dumping billions of gallons of treated wastewater into the ocean, and greatly increase efficiency while capturing and reusing stormwater, rainwater, and greywater. Our groundwater basins are being cleaned up and the opportunity to recharge and maintain like Orange County has been doing for years are the solutions of this century and the appropriate reaction to climate change and the extremes of this, the new normal," Everts said.

For more information about the campaign to stop the tunnels and the destruction of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary, go to: http://restorethedelta.org/

Two public meetings, one in Sacramento and one in Walnut Grover, are scheduled regarding the EIR/EIS:

• Sacramento – Tuesday, July 28, 2015, 3 to 7 p.m., Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel, Magnolia Room, 1230 J Street, Sacramento, C.A., 95814.

• Walnut Grove – Wednesday, July 29, 2015, 3 to 7 p.m., Jean Harvie Senior and Community Center, 14273 River Road, Walnut Grove, C.A., 95690.

Written comments are due by close of business Monday, August 31, 2015. Comments should be mailed to BDCP/WaterFix Comments, P.O. Box 1919, Sacramento, C.A., 95812, or emailed to BDCPComments [at] icfi.com.

Rather than taking Brown's cynical words about "climate change" and "green energy" at face value, people must look at Brown's actions, including expanding fracking in California; planning the construction of the most destructive public works project in California history, the Delta tunnels; driving Delta smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon and other fish species to the abyss of extinction; promoting pollution trading policies that benefit corporations at the expense of public health and the environment; and creating deeply flawed "marine protected areas" under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative that don't protect the ocean from oil spills, fracking, oil drilling and pollution.

For more information about the real environmental record of Governor Jerry Brown, go to: http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/30452-the-extinction-governor-rips-the-green-mask-off-his-tunnels-plan
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