2019 Status of the Water Wars

2019 is a new year. What’s been happening in the Water Wars?

Photo by Tony Kukulich, Discovery Bay Press, Feb 6, 2019.

Reminder: At the end of 2018

If you remember, at the end of 2018, the WaterFix opponents had successfully argued before the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) that the tunnel project’s destructive through-Delta construction project would be a disaster for small Delta communities in the North, for the entire area’s traffic when hoards of construction vehicles flood the small rural roads and two-lane levee highways, and for boating and recreation when barge traffic and construction totally shuts down boating in the Delta for the entire 10 or more years of construction.

Because of the strong case built against the tunnel construction, the SWRCB put off awarding the necessary permit to begin construction of the new intakes for the tunnels, waiting for a decision by the DSC whether or not the tunnel project was consistent with the Delta Plan. Consistency with the Delta Plan is a requirement for any project to move forward in the Delta. When the DSC Staff recommended strongly that the tunnels were inconsistent with the Delta Plan, both because of the construction impacts and water quality degradation, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) withdrew their consistency request.

The DWR did withdraw their consistency request but, in a sneaky move, also asked the DSC to withdraw the appeals, which they immediately did, shutting down all of the valid information and complaints that had been presented in the opponents’ appeals. STCDA’s Legal Council Michael Brodsky submitted a formal complaint, which we knew would be ignored, but wanted our complaint on-the-record.

Regardless, at the end of 2018, the project appeared to be at a roadblock.

Now it’s 2019.

Without SWRCB permits, no construction can begin.

Then why is the Joint Powers Association DCA awarding contracts for the tunnels work? The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) move ahead and select the Jacobs company to be the engineering design manager for the Delta Tunnels? Then the DCA awarded Fugro a contract for a major geotechnical investigation to support the California WaterFix project even though the project has not been approved. (Both were reported by Dan Bacher, FishSniffer). “The awarding of contracts to Fugro and Jacobs by the DCA also takes place despite an avalanche of lawsuits by cities, counties, water districts, Tribes, fishing groups, environmental NGOs and other organizations against a project opponents consider to be the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history.” People are wondering how the State thinks they can spend money on contracts and engineering when they have no permits.

A very worrisome action was the recent Trump Administration’s update to the Biological Assessment. Their goal is to increase exports from the Delta by reducing restrictions. Since we know the current high levels are what have caused the decades of decline in the Delta, this is a huge concern. It is now up to the US Dept. of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to provide their feedback. In the past, NMFS has put science and logic above political gamesmanship. We hope they are allowed to give an honest assessment and that it will be listened to. It has been bad enough that we have had years of a Brown Administration that has ignored science and moved ahead with tunnel vision. Now we have the Trump Administration pushing past science to side with the almond farmers against the Delta communities, farmers, and fish.

These are worrisome developments. But we have a new Governor. Everyone wants to know his opinion on the Delta Tunnels.

While we haven’t heard directly from our new governor about what his position is, Contra Costa Supervisor Diane Burgis was hopeful when Gov. Newsom called for a meeting with Delta representatives as one of his first activities in January. On January 23rd, Newsom met with the Delta County Coalition (a representation of supervisors from five Delta Counties: Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, and Yolo) and Delta Caucus members (Rep. Jim Frasier, Susan Eggman, Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, and Buffy Wicks). They discussed the lack of representation from the Delta on State Agencies and Boards making decisions about the Delta. They also discussed the Delta as a Place and what that means. No promises were made but Supervisor Burgis left the meeting feeling optimistic.

So far, Newsom has appointed Wade Crowfoot of Oakland as Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. He was West Coast political director at the Environmental Defense Fund and senior environmental advisor to former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom from 2004 to 2007. We were encouraged by his choice of Jarad Blumenfeld, a former Obama administration official and longtime environmental advocate as the new secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. As EPA Chief, Blumenfeld will lead the SWRCB. As far as I can tell, there have been no objections from the environmental groups about either of these appointments.

More importantly, additional upcoming appointments to be made by Governor Newsom will give us more insight into his intentions going forward. We will be encouraged if Newsom re-assigns Felicia Marcus as Chairperson of the SWRCB, as she has proven to be a fair arbitrar during the past three years of Water Board Hearings. She also showed fortitude in pushing back against the CA Dept. Fish and Wildlife and requiring increased flows on the San Joaquin River. We hope that decision will be supported by Gov. Newsom as the process moves forward. We’re hoping he decides to pick a new Director of the Department of Water Resources. That would be a big, positive step.

Besides the good news from the recent Newsom meeting, we have our Northern California Senators and Assemblymembers who formed the Delta Caucus last year, pushing to bring sanity to the project. From the Discovery Bay Press:

Last week, (February 1), Sen Bill Todd (Napa) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 204, which would require the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Delta Conveyance, Design and Construction Authority (DCDCA) to submit information about pending State Water Project contracts to the legislature for public review prior to those agencies moving forward with work on the Delta Tunnels.

The state’s Water Code requires DWR to advise the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) at least 60 days prior to the renewal or extension of water supply contracts between DWR and water contractors. In September 2018, DWR sought to extend the contracts with 29 water contractors from the current expiration date in 2035 to a new expiration date of 2085. During the hearing to review the contract extension, legislators renewed the call for increase oversight.

“I’ve been saying all along that DWR should not be spending large sums of tax dollars on any WaterFix contracts without oversight from the legislature,” said Frazier at the time. “I am working with other Delta Caucus legislators to determine what that oversight would look like and what it might take to implement it legislatively.”

For more information, read here: Discovery Bay Press “Senate Bill 204 increases WaterFix oversight”.

Bottom line: There are lawsuits starting opposing continued moves forward by the various agencies. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s new Biological Assessment is a huge concern in addition to the JPA’s DCDCA contracts to start the project and the Santa Clara Water Board push for rate increases to support the tunnels.

We will see what happens next, but STCDA will continue to do our part to stop the Tunnels.

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