Will Trump admin back Jerry Brown’s water-stealing Delta Tunnels?

  • Published on April 14th, 2017

After meeting with California Governor Jerry Brown on April 13,  U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said he “appreciated the positive and productive conversation” with Brown about “public lands, water infrastructure and projects throughout California” that are managed by the Department of Interior.

By Dan Bacher

One of the topics they talked about was Governor Brown’s controversial plan to build the Delta Tunnels. Zinke has not yet taken a formal Interior Secretary Zinke meets with California officials on Delta Tunnelsposition on the California WaterFix project, but you can bet that Brown was doing everything he could to convince him to officially support it.

Secretary Zinke noted that the Bureau of Reclamation spends more than a third of its budget in the state and “close coordination is essential to ensure reliable water supplies to communities, farmers, and businesses.”

“With more than 23 million acres of federally managed land in the state and Bureau of Reclamation projects that supply water and electricity to cities, farmers, and businesses, it is clear that we will be talking often,” said Zinke.

Neither Zinke or Brown’s Office indicated whether the Governor or Interior Secretary had initiated the meeting.

“Governor Brown and Secretary Zinke had a very cordial conversation today and there was a real recognition that California and the federal government are deeply interconnected when it comes to land and water management,” said Evan Westrup, Brown’s press secretary, in an email to the LA Times.

Delta and public trust advocates fear that Brown will try to make a deal with Zinke and other Trump administration officials to expedite the construction of the tunnels.

The Delta Tunnels project has come under increasing fire from scientists, economists and public trust advocates over the past few years. California's $15+ billion waterstealing "WaterFix" boondoggleBrown claims that the California WaterFix, the controversial plan to divert Sacramento River water to agribusiness and Southern California water agencies through two 35-mile long tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is based on “the best scientific thinking.”  (www.sacbee.com/…)

Federal scientists strongly disagree with Brown’s claim that “best scientific thinking” supports the construction of the tunnels. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has released a draft biological opinion documenting the harm the tunnels would cause to Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, other fish and wildlife species, and water quality.

An independent peer review panel found the NMFS findings are backed  by “comprehensive analyses, new data, and modeling,” according to the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA). The panel further found NMFS used the “best available science” and produced evidence of “significant adverse impacts” to species and critical habitat, including unacceptable harm to salmon.

The draft biological opinion is available at http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/central_valley/WaterFix/WaterFixPeerReview2BMaterials.html

After meeting with Brown, Secretary Zinke met with employees at Yosemite National Park on Thursday.

Today, Secretary Zinke kicked off National Park Week early at Sequoia National Park — America’s second national park – “known for its sky-scraping giant redwood trees, “  according to a U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) news release.

Zinke met with staff and leadership at Sequoia to discuss “a variety of issues including infrastructure, active management, and increasing access to public lands while also participating in a wildfire mitigation exercise,” the DOI said.

“Meeting with the dedicated staff at two of our nation’s most iconic parks is a great way to get a head-start on National Park Week,” Zinke said. “Sequoia and Yosemite are the epitome of what our national parks mean to the American people—post-card worthy landscapes that bolster local economies while preserving our national heritage. While we celebrate these amazing places, we will continue to tackle challenges like deferred maintenance and access to ensure they are preserved for generations to come.”

The annual celebration of America’s national parks runs from April 15 – 23 and includes a variety of events including fee-free days on April 15, 16, 22, and 23.

The U.S. Senate on March 1, 2017 confirmed then U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) as the nation’s 52ndSecretary of the Interior by a 68-31 vote. Zinke came to Congress in January 2014 after a 23-year career with the U.S. Navy.

In 2008, he was elected as a state senator, where he led the chamber’s Education and Cultural Resources Committee. During his tenure in Congress he served as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Statement from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke upon conclusion of his meeting with California Governor Jerry Brown

“I had the opportunity to meet this morning with California Governor Jerry Brown to discuss public lands, water infrastructure, and projects throughout California that are managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior. I appreciated the positive and productive conversation with the governor.

“As Secretary, I am committed to ongoing conversations with state and local leaders, particularly in areas surrounding federally-managed parks, refuges, water infrastructure, and other holdings. We spend more than a third of our Bureau of Reclamation budget in the state and close coordination is essential to ensure reliable water supplies to communities, farmers, and businesses.

“I shared my intent to work with the Governor to help prevent and reduce risks that wildland fires can pose to homeowners, watersheds, and businesses in California communities. This includes strong management of federal land holdings. We also discussed ensuring a first-rate experience for the more than 40 million visitors expected to visit national parks in the state this year.

“With more than 23 million acres of federally managed land in the state and Bureau of Reclamation projects that supply water and electricity to cities, farmers, and businesses, it is clear that we will be talking often.”


The Department of the Interior manages 23 million acres of federal land in California, including 28 national parks units and 39 national wildlife refuges. National Park lands in the state hosted 42 million visitors in 2016.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project supplies water to 3 million acres of farmland (a third of all farmland in the state), drinking water to more than 2.5 million people, and electricity to meet the needs of 416,000 customers.

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.