California continues to move rapidly on the water-stealing Delta Tunnel. Why, Gov. Newsom?

  • Published on June 19th, 2020

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today took another key action in its plan to build the Delta Tunnel, a massive public works project that a coalition of fishermen, Tribal leaders, environmentalists, family farmers, Delta residents, elected officials and other Californians considers to be potentially the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history.

Annelia HIllman, Yurok Tribal Member, speaks at a rally before the last Delta Tunnel scoping meeting in Redding on March 2 where over 200 members of Northern California tribes and their allies stood up against the tunnel project.
Annelia HIllman, Yurok Tribal Member, speaks at a rally before the last Delta Tunnel scoping meeting in Redding on March 2 where over 200 members of Northern California tribes and their allies stood up against the tunnel project.

By Dan Bacher

In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, DWR today submitted a revised Department of the Army permit application pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to request authorization for the proposed Delta Conveyance Project activities in waters of the United States. This is a necessary permit required by the federal government before the project can be constructed.

As Regina Chichizola, co-director of Save California Salmon, explained, “A 404 permit is a “major dredge and fill permit that will led to the Federal NEPA public comment period and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).”

“This is the same type of permit that was hotly contested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe during the Dakota Access Pipeline fight,” she said.

The underground tunnel project would divert water from the Sacramento River before it flows through the estuary so it can be exported through pumping facilities in the South Delta to big agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley and to Southern California water agencies including the Metropolitan Water District.

In addition to the Section 404 permit, DWR said they have separately initiated USACE (and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board) review of the Delta Conveyance Project under Section 14 of the Rivers and Harbor Act, Title 33 United States Code Section 408, “as an activity that may affect the Federal-State flood control system.”

Why is DWR doing this at this time?

The agency stated, “DWR is submitting its Section 404 permit application for the Delta Conveyance Project now in order to formally engage USACE in early coordination with DWR’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process regarding environmental review under USACE’s process for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act. The USACE permit process will not be concluded until NEPA and all other relevant environmental compliance efforts are complete.”

Chichizola noted that Save California Salmon and many others, including Tribal representatives, environmental justice advocates, and NGOs, have repeatedly asked the state to deem Delta Tunnel planning as” non-essential” during the COVID 19 pandemic.

“This is because many rural communities and Tribes cannot engage in the process currently. SCS was told that the scoping comment period is over so there is no public engagement opportunities anyway, even though plans for construction are actively moving forward,” she said.

“The decision to move forward with trying to obtain a federal permit using a set proposal, intakes and tunnel corridor so soon after the scoping period ended, and during a Pandemic, shows that state never had any intention of considering stakeholder input. This is despite the fact that thousands of people from all over California commented against the tunnel. Only major water brokers have expressed support,” Chichizola explained.

“Moving forward so quickly at this time is an insult to the rural communities that can not currently engage, to everyone’s whose land base, water supply and food supply, are threatened by this proposal, and to very idea of public processes. It is also a dismissal of hundreds of local youth, native people, and others, that had to fight for a single scoping hearing in Northern California. We have not had the opportunity to engage in the process since the Redding hearing we had to fight to get, and we still have not had any assurances that our voices were heard,” concluded Chichizola.

It is no surprise that Governor Newsom received a total of $755,198 in donations from agribusiness in 2018, based on the latest data from www.followthemoney.org. That figure includes $116,800 from Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoons Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the largest orchard fruit growers in the world and the sponsors of the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta.

By backing the Delta Tunnel, promoting the agribusiness-sponsored voluntary water agreements, vetoing SB 1, overseeing the issuing of a draft EIR that increases water exports for the state and federal projects rather than reducing them, and releasing a controversial water portfolio that includes fast tracking the Sites Reservoir, could it be that Newsom is bending to the will of his agribusiness donors.

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.

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