Delta Tunnels: Bill to phase out Delta Stewardship Council fails in committee
The Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee Tuesday failed to approve AB 1826, Assemblymember Jim Frazier’s bill to end the Delta Stewardship Council in 2020 and transfer its duties to the Delta Protection Coalition.
By Dan Bacher
The Delta Counties Coalition, Restore the Delta, North Delta Cares and the Delta Chambers and Visitors Bureau supported the legislation, while the Kern County Water Agency, Westlands Water District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and other big water districts opposed the bill.
Don Nottoli, a member of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, testified on behalf of the bill. He said the Delta Counties Coalition supported the bill because it backed “stronger and better representation” of the Delta in decisions impacting the Delta.
“There is a strong need for Delta representation. The Delta is a truly unique place,” he stated.
Frazier accused the Council of “tunnel vision” and accused it of serving as a “rubber stamp” for the Metropolitan Water District.
“We need to have a more fair and balanced approach that would address the coequal goals of water supply and restoring the environment,” said Frazier. “The Council has gone out its way to suppress input on the Delta Plan.”
Assemblymember Steven S. Choi voiced strong opposition to the legislation, describing it as “restructuring attempt to upset the balance of representation on the DSC” in favor of Delta interests.
The bill would have made the provisions establishing the Delta Stewardship Council inoperative on July 1, 2020. The bill directed the Delta Protection Commission, on that date, to succeed to, and to be vested with, the duties, powers, purposes, responsibilities, and jurisdiction vested in the council as of June 30, 2020.
In his op-ed in the Sacramento Bee on April 20, Frazier explained why he introduced the legislation:
“In 2009, the Delta Stewardship Council was created to achieve the co-equal goals of providing a more reliable water supply and restoring the Delta’s ecosystem to protect its unique cultural, recreational, natural resource and agricultural assets.
However, the council has neglected most of its mandate. In recent years, it has behaved more like the ‘Tunnels Stewardship Council,’ becoming little more than a shill for the proposed tunnels project that threatens to destroy the Delta as we know it.
For this reason I introduced Assembly Bill 1876 to end the council in 2020 and transfer its duties to the Delta Protection Commission, which has been a responsible steward for a quarter century. The bill is scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.”
The failure of AB 1876 wasn’t surprising, since with the inordinate influence of Big Ag and Big Oil over the California Legislature, it’s highly improbable that any bill not approved by Big Oil or Big Ag will make it out of the Legislature.
Six Assemblymembers voted no, eight abstained and zero voted for AB 1826.
The no votes were:
- Chair Eduardo Garcia
- Frank Bigelow
- Steven S. Choi
- Matthew Harper
- Mark Levine
- Rudy Salas.
- James Gallagher
- Wendy Carrillo
- Kansen Chu
- Laura Friedman
- Todd Gloria
- Ash Kalra
- Blanca E. Rubio
- Jim Wood.
No bill opposing the Delta Tunnels or even providing for a public vote on the project has been approved by the Legislature, just as no bill opposed by the Western States Petroleum Association and Chevron (with one exception) has been able to make it through this captured political body over the past three years.
- Background: California’s love affair with Big Oil: from marine ‘protection’ to cap-and-trade
Restore the Delta challenges DSC’s ‘best available science’ in synthesis papers
In other Delta news, Restore the Delta (RTD), a coalition opposing Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels project, on April 23 submitted a comment letter to the DSC criticizing three “synthesis papers” seeking to support eventual amendments to a Delta Plan chapter addressing ecosystem restoration.
The letter identifies gaps in the DSC’s attempt to apply “best available science” to ecological stressors in the Delta, climate change affecting the Delta, and ecosystem and habitat restoration efforts in the Delta.
The DSC has indicated that this amendment process will conclude sometime in 2019, according to RTD.
“We find the synthesis papers less than synthetic,” wrote Tim Stroshane, author of the letter and Restore the Delta’s policy analyst. “We identified gaps in their papers concerning interactions between contaminants like selenium and mercury and invasive and other species, the growing deficit of sediment for wetlands trapped behind upstream reservoirs (which affects whether restoration projects can survive sea level rise), and other omissions from adaptive management.”
“To date, the DSC has spent $200 million in plans and administrative decrees that are made up of recommendations to other agencies,” commented Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. “The DSC claims that its legislative mandate limits its powers and thus cannot engage in needed enforcements for the protection and restoration of the estuary. The Independent Science Panel, which does the most important work, sadly has its work misapplied by DSC staff because the Council’s political mandate for management of the Delta is to serve water exporters only.”
“The broad suite of science that examines water quality and quantity needs for the health of the estuary and its people is broadly ignored, social science and economic data analysis is virtually ignored, and the Delta Stewardship Council refuses to make recommendations that protect the Human Right to Water for Delta environmental justice communities and to enforce state anti-discrimination laws within its planning processes,” she stated.
“For $200 million, we could have expanded staffing at the Delta Protection Commission, an agency that enforces state mandates while working in a professional manner with Delta communities. We could have built fish weirs, contributed funding toward rescreening the existing water pumps at Clifton Court Forebay, completed Delta interim projects agreed to by Restore the Delta and Westlands Water District as needing completion, and the DSC could have completed a needed water availability analysis to examine if the proposed Delta tunnels would have enough access to water flows to be a truly viable project. There are better ways to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the Delta than on the Delta Stewardship Council,” concluded Barrigan-Parrilla.