Delta Protection Commission votes against California’s water-stealing peripheral tunnel plan
The Delta Protection Commission voted 9-2 on May 24 to oppose the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels as currently drafted. This is a huge victory for Delta advocates, fish, the environment and the people of California.
The construction of the twin tunnels would hasten the extinction of Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish species and take large areas of Delta farmland, among the most fertile on the planet, out of production in order to continue irrigating toxic land farmed by corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
I applaud Restore the Delta (RTD) Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla and board member Bill Jennings, also Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, for successfully urging the Delta Protection Commission to pursue a more cost-effective and sustainable water plan than building the proposed peripheral tunnels at the DPC meeting.
Delta Protection Commission Opposes Peripheral Tunnels
Landmark Decision Shows BDCP Only Protects Water-Takers
Courtland, CA – In a landmark decision, the Delta Protection Commission (DPC), the state commission charged by law with protecting the interests of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, voted on Thursday night to oppose the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) as currently drafted.
The vote was 9-2, with support for the exporter-driven BDCP coming only from commissioners representing the Natural Resources Agency and the Department of Food and Agriculture.
Restore the Delta (RTD) Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla and board member Bill Jennings, also Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, successfully urged the Delta Protection Commission to pursue a more cost-effective and sustainable water plan than building the proposed Peripheral Tunnels at the DPC meeting in Courtland.
“The BDCP contemplates the largest public works project in our history,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. “Yet the State refuses to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, in violation of its own policies. The water plan produced by the Environmental Water Caucus, which has been ignored by State officials, shows that new water can be made for Californians for much less money while reducing the amount of water taken from the Delta. We applaud the commission for its opposition to this flawed project.”
“The Delta Plan fails to comply with the law, and perpetuates an unsustainable status quo that enriches a few powerful water brokers at the expense of reliable water supplies and healthy fisheries. It is a classic shell game to benefit special interests and, if implemented, would represent a death sentence for one of the world’s great estuaries,” said Bill Jennings.
Commissioners asked Executive Director Mike Machado to have staff draft an opposition letter to be sent to concerned officials including Governor Brown, the Secretary of the Interior, U.S. senators and congressional representatives, and the White House.
They asked that the letter include a list of reasons for their opposition, including failure to identify flows and actual surplus available for export, failure to study reasonable alternatives for meeting the coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration, and failure to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis, including economic impacts on the Delta. They noted that from the beginning of the process, BDCP planners have failed to include local voices in a meaningful way.
Natural Resources Agency Deputy Secretary for External Affairs Todd Ferrara noted that there isn’t yet a final plan on which to take a position. But San Joaquin County Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller noted that Senator Diane Feinstein has already come out publicly in support of BDCP.
The DPC vote follows closely on last week’s vote by the Delta Stewardship Council to approve the Delta Plan, which must include BDCP if the conservation plan is OK’d by fisheries agencies.
DPC Chair Don Nottoli, who also serves on the Stewardship Council, has been criticized for voting in favor of the Delta Plan. He called BDCP “the gorilla in the room” for discussions of the Delta Plan, which covers a wide variety of other issues vital to the Delta’s future. Nottoli joined in the DPC vote to oppose the current draft of the BDCP.
Before voting to oppose the BDCP, commissioners heard about three alternative plans for meeting the coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration. (They had heard previously about a fourth plan, a portfolio concept plan proposed by the Natural Resources Defense Council in conjunction with other environmental, business, and municipal organizations.)
Senator John Garamendi spoke about his “Water Plan for All of California.” He called BDCP “destructive, expensive, and with marginal if any benefit to the species at risk.” Said Garamendi, “We can do better in California than this destructive proposal that’s before us.”
Barrigan-Parrilla and Jennings presented a plan for responsible exports produced by the Environmental Water Caucus, which represents over a million grassroots activists in California. Jennings noted that the plan proactively supports Delta values, including calling for 3 MAF of exports as an average safe yield and calling for the highest standards to protect Delta levees.
Jennings said, “I haven’t seen anything quite like this alliance in the three decades I’ve been working on these issues.”
Noted Barrigan-Parrilla, “We think that any plan must protect and restore Delta and Bay fisheries; must protect and enhance Delta communities and agriculture; and must make new water in a cost effective way for all Californians.” The Environmental Water Caucus plan meets those criteria.
The Commission also heard from Dr. Robert Pyke regarding his proposal to take water from the western Delta, with natural flows passing through the Delta before water is exported from Sherman Island. This plan has received support in some quarters, but concerns were expressed about its impact on fish.
Some of those at the meeting thought that the DPC should offer an alternative plan, but most commissioners were not prepared to support one plan over others and did not think it was necessary for them to do so as all the plans need further vetting. In addition, several speakers noted that BDCP has not shown any willingness to consider any alternatives other than those that make the BDCP itself look like the best plan. Others called BDCP itself fraudulent, noting that exporter funding has corrupted the planning process.
Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; steve [at] hopcraft.com; Twitter: @shopcraft
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053 barbara [at] restorethedelta.org; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta